Marshall Creates New Position and Coalition For Opioid Fight


Marshall University is boosting its fight against the opioid addiction epidemic. The University has created a coalition to coordinate strategies with the city of Huntington, as well as a new research position to study treatment options for addicts. 

The Huntington-based university has partnered with the city in a fight against the opioid addiction epidemic. Marshall hopes the creation of an opioid coalition and a new research position at its medical school will make progress in tackling a problem that is at the root of most issues the city faces. Dr. Joseph Shapiro is dean of the Marshall University School of Medicine.

“The first thing we have to do is put out the fire, we have to find a way to get the addict to stop using illegal narcotics in a dangerous way,” Shapiro said.

Researching the issue is just another step in a process that that has included the city creating an office of drug control policy to look at treatment for patients instead of just arresting the dealers. Huntington has also begun a harm reduction program that has the Cabell-Huntington Health Department conducting syringe exchange programs each Wednesday.

Jim Johnson is the Head of the Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy. He said each of the entities in Huntington were looking at the opioid epidemic in different ways, but they realized this fall they weren’t working together. They each knew the problem had started in 2006, but none of them had communicated to each other the issues they were seeing.

“We weren’t talking, we weren’t talking in 2006, not that if we had been talking would it have stopped the problem,” Johnson said. “But it would have obviously have helped in looking for the solution and that’s why, going back to it, it’s so important to break those silos.”

Johnson is heading up the coalition, along with Marshall’s Pharmacy School Dean Kevin Yingling and Amy Saunders, who leads the school’s Student Health Education Program.

They’re tasked with bringing together different groups on campus that are looking at the epidemic from different angles.

Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert said the university definitely has a role in helping the city fight the drug epidemic, that’s why he wanted to create the coalition as well as a position at the medical school.

“Part of our community is in a disease state and I think you have to treat addiction as a disease and looking at Marshall University and its place in the community,” Gilbert said. “I felt like we had a responsibility as a community partner and a member of the community to become engaged at some level in trying to help.”

The hope is that working together can start to solve issues that could lead the region and state in the right direction. Dr. Matthew Rohrbach, a delegate from the 17th District, agrees with. He said he’s trying to make the rest of the state realize that the drug epidemic is a key issue that’s keeping businesses from moving to the area.


Credit Toby Talbot / AP Photo
AP Photo

“As I’ve said, if we don’t get this problem under control and show meaningful progress, we’re just not going to move ahead economically here in this state at this point and time,” Rohrbach said.

That’s where a good research component will come in Rorhbach said, because to get the needed funding, the Legislature will want solid proof that it’s being spent wisely.

“We’re not going to get out of this problem without spending some money and that’s where I do think the Legislature gets it,” Rohrbach said. “But we’re also in a very tight budget situation in this state and we want to have some reasonable assurances that we’re spending our money in a prudent fashion.”

The goal of the new medical school position is to further examine the different treatment options available. Medical School Dean Joseph Shapiro said that in a state where treatment can be sparse at times, he’d like to explore ways to recommend treatment options on an individual basis with the goal of improving success rates.

Shapiro said he hopes to fill the position of Director of Addiction Sciences by summer. 

Appalachia Helth News

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Benedum Foundation.