HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) – West Virginia’s three medical schools have received a grant for a collaborative project that will increase the number of medical providers educated to provide medication-assisted treatments (MAT) by embedding MAT training into the curriculum at the medical schools.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has provided a grant of $448,786 for the project to Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM), and West Virginia University’s (WVU) School of Medicine and Office of Health Affairs, the project is also being supported by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.

“This effort is an excellent example of how we as academic health centers, and as a state, are coming together as true partners to address some of the most pressing health issues that West Virginia currently faces,” said Brianna Sheppard, Ph.D., associate director of research for the WVU Office of Health Affairs.

According to Marshall University, the project will establish a MAT education coordinator for the state to help develop curriculum and embed MAT training for programs and students. Officials say the project was created to “pipeline” providers into a high-need region through education.

“The need to train medical professionals on addiction treatment in West Virginia has never been more important,” said Lyn M. O’Connell, Ph.D., associate director of addition sciences at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine who also serves as principal investigator on the grant. “Currently, the number of MAT providers in West Virginia falls far short of the need for services. By improving education around addiction treatment, this project will also help develop a more compassionate and equipped generation of health care providers.”

Officials say the project will build “a sustainable model for curriculum integration” over the next three years to both address prescribing practices and include awareness, recognition and stigma as key education components.

“This grant helps us to continue focusing on the needs of our population and the students we train,” said Norman Ferrari, M.D., chief academic officer for WVU’s medical education program. “Our long-standing commitment to including addiction and pain management threads in our medical student curriculum, paired with our ACGME-accredited fellowships in addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine, enhance our students’ learning environment at all levels.”

The project also has a goal of expanding MAT training into other “prescriber disiplines,” such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

“Our medical students show up on campus well aware of the opioid epidemic facing the nation and hungry for information on this topic, especially ways to help those struggling with opioid use disorder,” said Gretchen Lovett, Ph.D., professor of clinical sciences at WVSOM and member of the grant team. “So, increasing this content in medical school curricula is going to bring this information to a very open and enthusiastic audience of future doctors.”