WMU secures federal grant to battle opioid epidemic

Contact: Alicia Dorr and Erin Flynn

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A major funding boost will soon give Western Michigan University students hands-on experience in combating the opioid epidemic that is ravaging communities across Michigan.

The $1.35 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration will support the Michigan Youth Prevention and Recovery from Opioid Youth Disorders—MY-PROUD—program at WMU.

"This grant presents WMU with an opportunity to make far-reaching impacts through health care workforce expansion in the state," says Dr. Ron Cisler, dean of WMU's College of Health and Human Services, who calls this a critical time to address the opioid epidemic in Michigan. "Our students will participate in hands-on educational experiences that will guide them throughout their professional lives, while also meeting an immediate, crucial need for families in our region."

Interdisciplinary Approach

Photos of Drs. Ann Chapleau, Jennifer Harrison and Bridget Weller

Drs. Ann Chapleau, Jennifer Harrison and Bridget Weller created the MY-PROUD program.

A team within the College of Health and Human Services recently secured the grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for an Opioid Workforce Expansion Program. Dr. Ann Chapleau, associate professor of occupational therapy, Dr. Jennifer Harrison, associate professor of social work, and Dr. Bridget Weller, assistant professor of social work, created MY-PROUD to enhance interdisciplinary education for social work and occupational therapy students and to expand the number of professionals available to serve rural and medically underserved communities.

The team will work with core health care and school partners to make students and community service providers more equipped to prevent, treat and support recovery from opioid use disorders, particularly with youth and transitionally aged adults. The project targets Calhoun, Jackson, Muskegon and Van Buren counties, which have the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths and lowest access to behavioral health care in the state.

Community Collaboration

MY-PROUD connects educational training and direct service provided through WMU with numerous off-campus organizations where students complete their required field work. The majority of new grant funding, totaling $1,349,749 over three years, will go directly to CHHS graduate students in the form of stipends.

"This will remove the stress of a substantial financial burden and allow students instead to focus on their research and first-year clinical experiences," says Harrison. "The students will graduate with experience and knowledge of evidence-based practices that can make a difference in the communities struggling with opioid use and substance use disorders throughout Michigan and beyond."

The new grant will also help WMU and its partners provide free workforce development training for all staff at partner organizations.

"WMU strives to have a public-impact focus to our research and training, and this new HRSA grant exemplifies and recognizes that mission," says Dr. Terri Goss Kinzy, vice president for research.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton advocated for the funding, emphasizing that opioid and substance abuse touches every community, regardless of demographic.

"We have all seen the horrendous impact caused by the opioid epidemic," says Upton. "We can all be encouraged that Western Michigan University is showing commitment to address this epidemic and that they will be given more resources to do so."

Questions about the program or fieldwork opportunities may be directed to Harrison at Jennifer.harrison@wmich.edu or (269) 387-3173, Chapleau at ann.chapleau@wmich.edu or (269) 387-7247 or Weller at bridget.weller@wmich.edu or (269) 387-3196.

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