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WVU receives CDC award to curb vaping and opioid abuse, improve health outcomes in West Virginia

West Virginia University’s efforts to address chronic disease and substance abuse prevention, growing concerns related to vaping and youth mental health issues will be bolstered by funding from the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, awarded to the  West Virginia Prevention Research Center in the  School of Public Health.  

Melissa Blank
Melissa Blank

“Rates of vaping in West Virginia are higher than those at the national level for both adolescents and adults,” said  Melissa Blank, assistant professor in the   Department of Psychology who leads the WVPRC’s research initiatives surrounding substance abuse. 

“These products, for which regulations are relatively limited, likely pose risks to users that are not fully understood – including the development of nicotine addiction among nontobacco users, continued use of tobacco among current users and unknown health conditions from chemicals not normally inhaled into the lungs,” Blank added.

One of just 25 such centers in the nation to receive this funding, which began Sept. 30, the award provides $750,000 in the first year and has additional support from the  WVU Research Office and  Health Sciences Center Office of Research and Graduate Education as they collectively provide $100,000 per year to support the WVPRC’s research efforts.

The grant will also allow community members to become active participants in the research process, which is a key component of its primary 2019-2024 project, the Integrated Community Engagement Collaborative – a prevention model aimed to combat the state’s devastating cycle of opioid abuse. 

The ICE Collaborative integrates substance abuse prevention activities for youth into local communities, focusing on building local capacity and infrastructure, with the expectation that the locally-tailored approach will decrease rates of youth substance use and foster community resilience. 

“West Virginia has so much to offer to its young people,” said  Alfgeir Kristjansson, associate professor in  social and behavioral sciences and WVU project leader, who has  overseen the project in the past. “It is our job to provide them with the appropriate structure and support so they can develop into healthy and successful adults. The Collaborative contributes to this mission via research-to-practice collaboration between the WVPRC and local community prevention coalitions through ongoing data collection, practice-based dissemination and active dialogue.”

In addition to continuing its collaboration with the  Community Partnership Board, the WVPRC will work with the West Virginia Division of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease to ensure its research, evaluation and training activities reflect the state’s health priorities. 

“We will continue our commitment to advancing the science of collaborative public health research and increasing our partners’ capacity for using rigorous research and evaluation to inform sound environmental, policy and practice change,” said  Geri Dino, WVPRC director and professor in social and behavioral sciences. 

“From reducing substance abuse, promoting healthy lifestyles to enhancing youth and community resilience, our overarching goal is to deliver community-relevant solutions.”