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WCU receives federal opioid grant

A $99,936 federal grant will be given to West Chester University this year as part of a $55 million federal project which targets the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania.

The grant, announced by West Chester-based state senator, Andy Dinniman, will be put towards the creation and expansion of  the university’s opioid relief programs, specifically, “raising campus awareness, reducing stigma, [and] increasing access to overdose training and grief support.”

The grant is the newest attempt to target the growing rates of opioid abuse and drug-related deaths in Pennsylvania.

“The deadly drug and opioid epidemic is robbing our communities of our greatest resource – the talented students and young people who will lead us into the future,” said Dinniman in a Facebook post on Jan. 10.

Chester County has seen the effects of the opioid crisis firsthand, with 112 opioid-related deaths in 2018 alone. While deaths from overdose are down from 140 in 2017, abuse of drugs in the opioid class, such as heroin, fentanyl and legal, prescribed drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin, has continued to rise across Pennsylvania.

“Too often, opioid addiction becomes a tragic – and unspoken – issue across college campuses within our region, the state and the nation as a whole.”

West Chester University and the nearby Immaculata University are among the 13 institutions of higher education across the state that will receive almost $1 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), overseen by Governor Tom Wolf’s Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.

Wolf stressed the importance of the education of students about the realities of the opioid crisis as well as instructing students on the use of naloxone/Narcan, a remarkably fast-acting medication that can stop opioid overdoses. Representative Carolyn Comitta expressed similar priorities in a statement about the grant. “It is crucial to educate as many people as possible on the risks of opioid use and how to administer naloxone,” said Comitta in a press release which follows the announcement of the grant.

Besides the education of young adults on the opioid crisis as an investment in the future, the need for relief hits uncomfortably close to home for many West Chester Students, with DDAP secretary Jen Smith adding that the most-susceptible demographic for opioid abuse in Pennsylvania are college-aged people, between 18 and 30.

When asked about the importance of funding for college-specific drug relief efforts like the SAMHSA grant, Senator Dinniman had this to say:

“Too often, opioid addiction becomes a tragic – and unspoken – issue across college campuses within our region, the state and the nation as a whole. With these grants, we are taking strides in securing routes to prevent and reduce opioid use on campus. The grant not only represents another important step towards saving lives – it represents a willingness and openness to speak on this issue as a pertinent reality to student communities.”

As for where around campus we can expect to see the $99,936 invested, the university has not made their action plan clear. WCU’s website makes no mention of the grant whatsoever, and The Office of Wellness Promotion did not respond to an inquiry about the specifics of programs the university plans to establish or expand with the new funding. WCU currently has few online resources which concerns opioid addiction, but offers “free, confidential discussions around alcohol or other drug-related concerns” from the Office of Wellness Promotion. The university has one full time Alcohol and Other Drug Counselor.

Whether the funding will go towards the expansion, addiction relief services in need of attention like WCU’s understaffed counseling center, and/or establishing new resources, like naloxone training, remains yet to be seen.

Brendan Lordan is a third-year student majoring in English writing and minoring in journalism.

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