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Leaders angle for support for new youth-based drug addiction prevention program

Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 5:28 PM EDT
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WHITE SULFUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (WDBJ) - Last year was a devastating year for the opioid epidemic in America. It claimed a record number of lives inside a pandemic.

A new public-private partnership in West Virginia aims to change the game when it comes addressing the crisis. The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia this week was the backdrop to both a golf tournament and a conversation about drug addiction. It was designed to support the partnership: a collection of resources that aims to prevent substance misuse, attempting to model the program for the rest of rural Appalachia.

At the fancy resort, in a fancy ballroom, Jennie Hill laid bare to a roomful of strangers how she became addicted to drugs.

“I actually have Narcan in my purse,” she told the room. “Even though we’re at the Greenbrier and you would never expect an OD to happen in the bathroom here, believe it or not it can happen anywhere to anyone, no matter what their social status or income status is.”

She was on a panel at a prevention luncheon, a series of events at the Greenbrier to bring attention and support to Game Changers.

It’s an initiative piloted by Joe Boczek.

“I’ve been basically touched, myself personally, my family, by opioid substance misuse,” he said. “I’ve had friends have to put their children in the ground. I’ve had relatives have to put their children in the ground.”

Boczek said West Virginia was doing a lot of good work on the opioid crisis but not making a big enough dent.

He developed a public-private partnership he says aims to make youth the center of a prevention program, featuring annual summits with the support of teachers, coaches and other leaders.

“And I don’t think you could issue directives to this generation today,” he said. “When you tell them just say no, they’re gonna wanna know why. And I think we’re the why.”

Boczek said the program is different from others in that it puts so many of West Virginia’s resources and leaders under one big umbrella focused on the crisis. Plus, he said leadership with the Hazeldon Betty Ford Foundation will bring what he called cutting edge prevention education to young people all across the state.

It has the support of state recovery resources, legislators and Governor Jim Justice himself. The luncheon was book-ended by a dinner that featured an appearance by Nick Saban, University of Alabama football coach, and a golf tournament meant to raise money for the program.

“So I think it’s a great idea,” said Hill, Assistant Director of West Virginia Alliance of Recovery Residences. “The more people that can get educated and come to events like this, the more allies you know that we’ll have in the hierarchy of our government and that’s important.”

While success for prevention is hard to measure, Boczek hope the years to come show addiction rates fall.

And Hill hopes to see West Virginia’s youth grow, just like she has.

“I’m just really grateful to be where I’m at in my recovery today and I wouldn’t change a thing about my life.”

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