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$1 million given to George Mason University to establish center to fight the growing opioid epidemic

Nationwide, officials are reporting an alarming spike in drug overdoses.

FAIRFAX, Va. — George Mason University will get more than $1 million in federal funding for the creation of a new center that will help in the local fight against substance misuse.

Officials say the new Empowered Communities Partnership Center is made possible thanks to U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), who served as its primary Congressional sponsor. The award was part of the federal omnibus appropriations bill that President Biden recently signed into law to fund the government through Fiscal Year 2023.

“This federal funding that I've delivered for George Mason will help high-risk Virginians struggling with substance-use disorder get the help they need as they reenter the community after incarceration,” Wexton said. “The opioid crisis has hit Virginia communities hard, and it is an issue I've worked closely on throughout my career in public service. I applaud Mason's efforts to establish this new center, which will help leverage public-private partnerships among local community leaders in our Commonwealth to prevent overdoses and save lives.”

Using the one-time federal investment of $1,037,519, officials claim that the future center will use public and private partnerships to address abuse among high-risk individuals experiencing substance and opioid abuse disorder. 

That collaboration will include the State of Virginia as well as local criminal justice and public health partners for expanded coordination of care for those with opioid use disorder reentering the community following their release from incarceration.

According to Virginia statistics, clients with substance abuse disorders transitioning from incarceration are up to 129 times more likely to overdose in their first two weeks following their release. 

Officials claim the new center will work to prevent opioid overdoses as well as attempt to reduce the burden the state health care system faces by developing new models of community care.

The project will also document how substance abuse affects various communities differently.

Rebecca Sutter, a professor of nursing within Mason’s College of Public Health and the co-director of the Mason and Partners (MAP) Clinics and the Empowered Communities Program, will oversee the center.

“We are building upon our programs to expand our impact,” Sutter said. “This is a partnership center with the local community guiding its work while acting as a learning laboratory for the next generation of public health strategists and leaders.”

Nationwide, officials are reporting an alarming spike in drug overdoses, with evidence suggesting that continued isolation from the global pandemic, economic devastation and disruptions to drug trade helped fuel the surge.

The new center will help improve coordination and promote readiness among local health departments, community members, healthcare providers, police and more.

“Funding for mental health and substance use prevention allows the College of Public Health and our Mason and Partner (MAP) Clinics to expand our impact and prepare future providers for evidence-based practice in screening and assessment, treatment, and recovery,” said Melissa J. Perry, dean of the College of Public Health. “We are grateful to Representative Wexton for her continued support for these mission critical areas of research and practice and for her commitment to meeting the needs of high-risk individuals experiencing substance and opioid use disorder. Through the new partnership center and learning laboratory, we look forward to continued collaboration with the local community and our elected officials to make a lasting impact in Northern Virginia.”

Recent data provided by the Virginia Department of Health reveals overdoses in the state resulted in more than 21,000 emergency room visits in 2021, and more than 10,800 from opioids alone. The number of fatal overdoses from all substances that year was an increase of 69% from 2019, while the number of fatal opioid overdoses in 2021 had increased by 80% since 2019. 

Fentanyl was involved in nearly 72% of all of Virginia’s drug overdose deaths in 2020.

Those most often impacted by opioid overdose deaths are individuals living in rural areas of less privileged socioeconomic status, data reveals.


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