The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) awarded $1.1 million dollars to a team of Washington State University faculty focused on providing training and technical assistance to rural Washington communities combating the opioid epidemic.

The SAMHSA grant will be used to establish the Center for Rural Opioid Prevention, Treatment and Recovery with the goal to provide rural communities with effective methods for combating the opioid epidemic. The multidisciplinary team lead by Michael McDonell (Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine) and Elizabeth Weybright (College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences and WSU Extension) will leverage WSU’s Extension system to provide training to rural communities to help them prevent and treat opioid addiction.

“I am excited to be involved in this important project that truly personifies our land grant mission,” said Michael McDonell, associate professor at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and director of Behavioral Health Innovations. “I grew up in the apple orchards of Central Washington, so I know the importance of WSU Extension as a nexus of innovation and support in rural communities. This project brings together our outstanding WSU team made up of prevention experts and extension faculty in CAHNRS and our treatment experts in the Colleges of Medicine and Nursing to provide a wide range of supports to rural communities who are battling the opioid epidemic.”

Rural areas are disproportionately impacted by the opioid epidemic. According to a recent study performed by the College of Medicine, providers in rural Eastern Washington counties report opioid misuse as their second biggest health care challenge, with the lack of treatment creating a significant challenge for their communities.

This initiative aligns with both the College of Medicine’s mission to expand medical education and health care access to rural and underserved communities across Washington and the university’s land grant mission to advance knowledge and serve all 39 counties in Washington. SAMHSA’s investment in rural health initiatives will make it possible to continue the long-standing work done by both the College of Medicine and CAHNRS in providing opioid prevention, treatment and recovery training to rural providers.

“The key to long-term success in addressing the opioid epidemic involves not only meeting current needs but investing in prevention strategies to stem the tide,” said Elizabeth Weybright, assistant professor in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences and adolescent extension specialist. “Research shows the youth and family prevention programs we’re using are already effective in reducing opioid use. Our community-based Extension faculty have extensive experience implementing these types of programs and by partnering with Medicine and Nursing, we’re now addressing the entire continuum.”

The SAMSHA grant is a major win for each of the colleges as previous funds have largely been funneled to Washington’s large urban communities. As a land‑grant university, WSU is in a position to provide prevention, treatment and recovery assistance to rural communities facing opioid misuse.

With this investment in the Center for Rural Opioid Prevention, Treatment and Recovery, leaders hope to provide opioid use treatment assistance to at least 500 providers and citizens living in rural Washington within the center’s first several years.