Caroline MacGregor Published

WVU Nursing Programs Target Addiction Treatment


West Virginia University has two new online nursing programs that target Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD).

The Addiction Nursing Care courses were developed by Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) within the WVU School of Nursing.

The courses are Office-Based Medication Assisted Treatment and Nursing Competencies in Addiction Care. Both emphasize a non-judgmental, empathetic and compassionate approach to their patients’ recovery, according to the course description.

Course facilitator, Dr. Susan McKenrick, leads one of two Comprehensive Opioid Addiction Treatment clinics at Milan Puskar Health Right.

“No matter what venue a nurse is working in, she (or he) is going to encounter persons with substance abuse disorder (SUD), ” McKenrick said. They really need to be able to care for them not only in an educated way, but in a thoughtful way.”

McKenrick said the courses are a direct response to the prevalence of substance abuse in West Virginia.

“Particularly in the southern part of the state, the opioid epidemic – it really is at crisis level.”

While the triggers that lead a person down the road to addiction are countless, McKenrick cited depression, anxiety and other mental health illnesses as top reasons many people choose self-medication to numb their pain.

Watching her patients struggle to become sober is not easy. McKenrick said often patients are exposed to family members or friends who are still in addiction. For many, the temptation can be overwhelming. For others, the determination to remain sober is key to their success.

“To be able to watch them make those major milestones, and get to the point where they’ve accomplished three months, then six months, and get to a year of being sober,” she said. “It’s just amazing.”

Despite the toll of addiction on families in West Virginia, McKenrick is optimistic there is hope at the end of the tunnel. The Addiction Nursing Care courses are not the antidote to substance use disorder but through specialized nursing care they offer people in addiction a fighting chance.

Both courses teach nurses how to care for people with substance use disorder by treating addiction as an illness. McKenrick said restoring a patient’s dignity through compassionate care is key to substance use recovery.

In addition to general medicine, the program offers nurses the opportunity to learn about the intricacies of pain management and the administration of treatments like suboxone and newer non-narcotic non-addictive treatments like vivitrol for opioid dependence. Nurses also learn how to effectively counsel and educate patients in crisis to help them recognize, avoid, and manage high risk situations that expose them to drugs.

Both self-paced nursing courses are $50 and offer 29 hours of continuing education credit including 8 hours of pharmacology.