The Lancaster community and students at Millersville University (MU) are feeling the impacts of receiving a $1.35 million grant to help fight the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania.
The bulk of the three-year grant from the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration covers costs for students interested in working in opioid addiction and recovery fields; scholarships of $10,000 for students enrolled in the Master of Social Work (MSW) or $28,000 for students enrolled in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
The progress made by the group has been encouraging, said Dr. Marc Felizzi, associate professor of Social Work and principal investigator on the grant.
“It’s been exciting,” Felizzi said. “It’s elevated opportunities for students because they receive a stipend at the end of the year. It increased the University’s presence in the community, and we get the chance to engage with community providers. We can really do some good here.”
Students involved with the grant are serving in varied placements throughout the region, Felizzi said, be it public health agencies, schools and underserved areas most likely to be impacted by opioid use.
The main purpose of the grant is to expand the opioid workforce population, a critical necessity, Felizzi said. The prescription opioid and heroin overdose epidemic is one of the worst public health crises in Pennsylvania, according to the PA Department of Health website. In Lancaster, an estimated 7,873 people have a drug disorder, seventh-most of all Pennsylvania counties according to data compiled from January 2018 to July 2020. Millersville’s team is taking a three-step approach toward fighting the crisis, Felizzi said; Prevention, treatment and recovery. Raising awareness about the effects of opioid use may stop people from ever using, while education and support during the treatment and recovery phases may prevent a relapse.
“Our goal is to talk to students and people in the community about what substance abuse issues look like, what opioid use looks like, and its effects not just on the individual but their family, friends and community,” Felizzi said. “What we’re also trying to do is develop methods of screening so the community at-large is evaluated quickly and we can identify issues to avoid or address.”
The grant team also added Gwen Burkholder as the program coordinator. Burkholder is a licensed clinical social worker in Pennsylvania and certified drug and alcohol counselor with more than 20 years experience in the field. She sets protocols and is in constant communication with students and field agencies.
The grant, now in its second year, expires after the 2021-22 academic year, after which the group plans to reapply for another three-year period. Felizzi hopes that more students will join the workforce and ultimately join the field as professionals upon graduation.
“Our goal would be that all the students we work with will go out and work in prevention, treatment and recovery,” he said. “We feel like we’re really increasing the quality of the material we’re teaching and enhancing skills that students have with clients.”