McGraw Grant Will Support WVU Drug Abuse Program

WVU will establish community-based effort in McDowell County

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A $200,000 grant presented to West Virginia University today by West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw will establish a community-based program in McDowell County to help young people avoid the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

"We will involve students, teachers, parents and community members in this effort," said Robert Pack, Ph.D., MPH, associate professor in the WVU Department of Community Medicine, who will lead the project. "Our plan is to develop, pilot test and evaluate a prescription drug abuse and diversion prevention program in this area - which has been hard-hit by abuse of prescription pain medication - in the hopes that if it is successful here it can be duplicated elsewhere."

The program will target 10- and 11-year-olds in the county's public schools - children who are unlikely to be involved in drug abuse, but who are approaching the age where they may be at risk.  The WVU project will take advantage of an established youth organization - the Health Sciences and Technology Academy (HSTA) - and recruit its high school age students to serve as peer mentors to the younger children.

"Substance abuse and experimentation often begins among 13 and 14-year-olds," Dr. Pack said. "Effective substance abuse prevention programs work by building up the ability of younger children to solve problems and to refuse offers of substances that can be harmful."

Existing programs have successfully helped many young people resist alcohol, illegal drugs and tobacco. But few if any have focused on the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

"We have found in our earlier work in rural West Virginia that strong community-oriented programs are the most effective and well received," Pack said. "Our strategy is to build upon existing collaborative relationships."

In McDowell County, WVU researchers will work with the HSTA clubs at Mt. View High School and Big Creek High School to develop the program. The high school students - along with their teachers - will be trained in mentoring techniques that target refusal skill building and creative problem solving.

Mt. View students will work with fifth-graders at Welch Elementary, and Big Creek students with students at War Elementary.

The clubs will work with the younger students weekly for six to 10 weeks. They will also participate in efforts designed to help parents and others in the community learn about the strategies for prescription drug abuse prevention.

"Our aim is to surround a child with a culture of risk-refusal," Pack said. "Knowledge of the scope of the problem, positive role models and creative problem solving skills are the keys to success."

Students and parents will be surveyed both before and after the intervention to determine if the project raised awareness, changed attitudes and modified key behaviors.

- WVU -

For more information:
Bill Case, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087

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