Professionals on the front lines of the opioid crisis are teaming up with college students, in hopes of working toward better solutions. The West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy hosted both groups Saturday, as part of a weekend conference at Marshall University.
A group of professionals collaborated with 36 students from a variety of colleges, including WVU, Marshall and Yale. A panel discussion titled “Opioid Epidemic: Lessons Learned and Best Practices” not only addressed the issue, but also how future generations can stand up and influence public policy.
“People are dying virtually almost every day from overdoses and drug-related illnesses,” said Ted Boettner, Executive Director of the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy. “By having a good understanding of the best way we can save lives and have stronger communities, we can be a lot better off.”
For some of the students, the opioid issue hits home, whether they’ve watched it consume their towns or even faced it themselves.
“Aside from being a student, I’m actually a person in long-term recovery,” said Emily Birckhead, who attended the conference.
Birckhead struggled with addiction for 12 years, but now has been in recovery for three years, is a peer-recovery coach in Charleston, and is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Marshall.
“I think the earlier that we start introducing these things – not only the capacity to make change, but to be educated about the changes that we want to make – the better that we’re going to be,” said Birckhead.
The conference also included insight from local resources, such as Huntington’s Quick Response Team.
“A really good statement they made in there is, it’s not “what’s wrong with these people,” but “what happened to this person,” said Larrecsa Cox, a member of the Quick Response Team. “I think that’s incredibly important and generations to come can definitely benefit from that.”
The conference hopes to give students the tools and confidence to put their ideas into action.
“I think one of the gaps is once people get into recovery, then what,” said Birckhead. “You’ve been through treatment, maybe you’ve met some amazing people, but at some point, that bubble is going to pop and you’re going to go back into the real world. So I would really like to see more initiatives to support people who are in long-term recovery.”
Ideas like that are what will shape the future.