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WVU providing a path forward through multifaceted approach to addiction

Medical professionals wearing blue scrubs and surgical masks gather around computer monitors displaying ultrasound images of the brain.

Staff at the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute are involved in a first-in-the-world clinical trial to investigate the use of focused ultrasound technology to treat opioid use disorder, one example of the many ways the University is working to address addiction. (WVU Photo/Brian Persinger)

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West Virginia University’s efforts in education and training, innovative research and treatment options are creating a shift in the substance use recovery rate from possible to probable.

A study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2020 found that one in 10 adults in the United States reported having a substance use disorder, and approximately 75% of those who experience addiction reported being in recovery.

Uniquely positioned to bring together academic and clinical experts, laboratory scientists, patient advocates, policymakers and the private sector, WVU is helping to change the future for those struggling with addiction.

“We feel that we can make an impact for the citizens of West Virginia related to a new level of hope that perhaps we haven’t seen in the past,” Dr. Clay Marsh, chancellor and executive dean for WVU Health Sciences, said. “We have committed that at West Virginia University we will be a place to solve real problems of real people.

“We are pioneering treatments and new approaches and also are making sure that people have access to high degrees of training, education and jobs, which we know is part of the solution as well.”

To highlight ongoing efforts, WVU Health Sciences recently launched a website dedicated to information about the overdose epidemic and the University’s vision for a path forward. Located at, the website serves as a hub for addiction-related information, research and resources and will continue to be a work-in-progress as new initiatives are developed.

Teaching compassionate care

WVU is providing educational opportunities for students enrolled in academic programs across campus, and professionals and community members across the state.

In addition to incorporating curricula in all five health schools – Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Public Health – the University offers academic programs dedicated to addiction medicine.

Part of the nation’s first cohort of programs to achieve accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education in addiction medicine training, the School of Medicine provides addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry fellowships that are committed to offering mentorship and research opportunities. 

Undergraduate students may pursue a Bachelor of Arts in mental health and addiction studies, a Bachelor of Science in art therapy or a minor in addiction studies, in addition to other programs that incorporate mental health and substance use disorder training. Educational opportunities are provided to students in other fields such as the Reed College of Media’s partnership with Reporting on Addiction, which trains professional and student journalists on how to improve their reporting on addiction and recovery to reduce unintentional stigma in news narratives.

A range of training opportunities are also available to active health professionals, first responders and others throughout West Virginia, including the Strengthening Training for Addiction Recovery or STAR Project and the Center of Excellence for Addiction Medicine. Additional partnerships with governmental, health care, educational and private groups work to address underlying causes of addiction, including behavioral, social, economic and psychological factors.

“In West Virginia, we’re finding that more and more people are gaining purpose — the ‘why’ behind what we do,” Dr. Marsh said. “At WVU, we are spearheading to be the first university to open a Purpose Center. It will help students connect their talents to a career path and help our professionals reconnect with the reason why they went into their field. That shared commitment to excellence and to the land grant mission to improve the lives of the citizens in our state will allow us to take solutions that work and move them as far forward as we can so that we can help people in every state and even beyond our country.”

Developing innovative solutions

As an R1 Research Institution, WVU experts are breaking new ground for treatment, prevention, educational and economic opportunities.

For the more than 20 million Americans living with addiction, researchers are developing clinical trials, medications and programs to provide hope for individuals, families and communities through innovative treatments. Researchers also are developing and implementing evidence-based prevention programs to eliminate or reduce risk factors for drug use.

“Innovations at the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute are creating cutting-edge opportunities. We can quiet brain addiction centers using low-intensity, focused ultrasound treatments non-invasively, using more invasive deep brain stimulation, and also using virtual and augmented reality to change addiction cues,” Marsh explained. “People who have had recalcitrant challenges with addiction, where they haven't been able to get sober, they for the first time, sometimes in their life, now report feeling no such addiction challenges.”

Substance use goes further than just the immediate risks. Tracking side effects and impacts, experts have identified links to HIV, neonatal abstinence syndrome, suicide and other dangerous effects, and are working to better understand its influence on the economy to implement workforce development programs.

Improving health outcomes

The overdose epidemic is affecting individuals, families and communities, but resources are available on campus, across the state and through national organizations to support treatment, recovery and prevention.

Services available for WVU students include the WVU Collegiate Recovery program, the Carruth Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, and WELLWVU that help connect individuals to the information and services they need.

WVU Medicine Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry provides hope in the Appalachian region for patients — from children to elderly adults — dealing with a range of emotional and psychological issues, including substance use and addiction. Its programs provide a continuum of care through outpatient, partial hospitalization, inpatient and residential treatment services.

Individuals living in West Virginia also have access to services including WV PEERS, IMPACT WV, HELP4WV and several other programs sponsored by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

“At WVU, we have made a substantial commitment to enhance the numbers of professionals across the health system to make health care and treatment for substance use disorder and other behavioral health diseases much more accessible,” Marsh said. “We are also focused on trying to help people reconnect to others, to find strong community, to find their purpose, to get the right training, to get themselves back into the workforce, and to make them feel that they are contributing citizens of the larger society here in West Virginia and beyond.”

(Note: This is one in a series of new stories released during National Recovery Month that highlight initiatives at West Virginia University to combat the overdose epidemic. Additional stories can be found at



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