VCU hosts public seminar on evidence-based addiction prevention strategies

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Earlier this month, the U.S. surgeon general released a report on alcohol, drugs, and health, declaring drug and alcohol addiction a public health crisis in the U.S. Less than a week later, Virginia’s state health commissioner declared opioid addiction a public health emergency in the state.    

In an effort to address the addiction crisis in Virginia, the Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University is hosting a seminar Dec. 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Larrick Student Center (900 Turpin St.). The seminar, co-hosted by Beacon Tree Foundation, will feature an overview of Preventure, a school-based prevention intervention program recently featured in The New York Times. Preventure was identified in the surgeon general’s report as an evidence-based addiction prevention strategy associated with up to 80 percent reductions in alcohol and drug use at two-year follow-ups with program participants.    

Jasmin Vassileva, Ph.D.
Jasmin Vassileva, Ph.D.

“Preventure is one of the most successful evidence-based prevention programs there is,” said Jasmin Vassileva, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at VCU. 

The Preventure program targets four characteristics that increase risk for addiction and other mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder. Vassileva will present at the VCU seminar with Preventure developer Patricia Conrod, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal, who is visiting Richmond to train Vassileva and her research team on how to deliver the Preventure intervention. Vassileva and Conrod have worked together for more than 25 years and the pair plans to seek federal funding to test Preventure at Virginia high schools in 2017.

“Despite being included in the surgeon general report on addiction, Preventure has not yet been tested in the United States,” Vassileva said, adding that it has been implemented successfully in other countries including Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. “Our goal is to make Virginia the first U.S. state to pilot the intervention program.” 

The seminar will include presentations by Linda Hancock, Ph.D., director of the VCU Wellness Resource Center, and Anne Moss Rogers, a local mental health advocate who recently lost her son Charles to suicide as a result of depression and addiction. Concluding remarks will be provided by Brittany Anderson, director of legislative and constituent affairs at the Office of Attorney General.

The seminar is one of many steps VCU School of Medicine is taking to combat the opioid addiction crisis in Virginia. 

Through the university’s International Programme in Addiction Studies, VCU partners with two of the world’s top research universities in the field of addiction science — King’s College London and the University of Adelaide in Australia — to offer international perspectives and discussions on addiction to students around the globe. 

This fall semester, VCU joined more than 60 medical schools across the country to require prescriber education training for medical students that is in line with the newly released Centers For Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain. 

“Prevention is a key element of addressing the opioid addiction crisis,” said F. Gerard Moeller, M.D., division chair of addiction psychiatry at VCU School of Medicine. 

Moeller led the medical school’s curriculum revision that incorporated the new prescriber education training. 

“Education of treatment providers and prevention programs like Preventure are some of the best methods to reduce drug addictions,” he said. “These methods will need to be combined with expanding treatment programs for individuals once they become addicted.” 

Earlier this year, VCU Health joined the Opioid Awareness and Recovery Coalition, a regional organization committed to increasing understanding and education about the ongoing opioid epidemic. The coalition includes Richmond’s three major health systems along with area medical groups, government agencies, nonprofit organization and businesses. 

“The new treatment programs that are being developed at VCU Health will work in tandem with ongoing prevention efforts with the ultimate goal of solving the opioid addiction crisis,” Moeller said.