VCU town hall to focus on substance abuse and young people

Share this story

A symposium at Virginia Commonwealth University will bring together experts on substance abuse, addiction and treatment to share knowledge and hold a dialogue on the latest research on substance abuse and young people.

“We know substance use touches all parts of our society. We want to create a space for students, family members, community members, staff, faculty, local professionals and scientists to hear different perspectives on a very complex topic,” said organizer Tom Bannard, program coordinator for Rams in Recovery at the Wellness Resource Center and administrative director for the College Behavioral and Emotional Health Institute at VCU.

We know substance use touches all parts of our society.

In the midst of the current opiate crisis,” he said, “this is an important opportunity to further the conversation in our community about substance use and young people.”

The event, “From Research to Rehab: A Town Hall Meeting on Substance Use and Young People,” will be held on April 14 and 15. It will be free and open to the public, but seating is limited. To register, visit

A lot of times there is a gap between what researchers know and what both the public and professionals are able to access,” Bannard said. “There is also often a gap between what is happening on the streets and what is being studied in the lab. Bringing this diverse group of people together will help us to close that gap and build better systems of care.”

The symposium is being organized by COBE, which was launched in November in the College of Humanities and Sciences with a mission to promote behavioral and emotional health in college communities through the integration of research with coursework, programming and policy related to behavioral and emotional health.

One of the things we're trying to do through COBE is use the tremendous research expertise that exists at VCU in the area of substance use and mental health outcomes to benefit our community,” said COBE Director Danielle Dick, Ph.D., a professor in the Departments of PsychologyAfrican American Studies, and Human and Molecular Genetics.

This symposium is an effort to bring together VCU researchers, outside speakers and members of both our VCU and Richmond community to have a dialogue about substance use challenges and how we can work together to make a difference in the lives of our young people,” she said.

As part of the event, Justin Luke Riley, executive director of the nonprofit Young People in Recovery, will deliver a closing keynote address, “The Young People’s Recovery Movement,” at 12:15 p.m.on April 15.

The full agenda includes:

April 14
6:30–8 p.m.
Harris Hall auditorium

  • Kevin McCauley, M.D., The Institute for Addiction Study, “The Neuroscience of Addiction.”
  • Bill Maher, Family Intervention Center of Virginia, “Systemic Coaching for Recovery.”

April 15
8:30 a.m.–12:45 p.m.
James Branch Cabell Library

8:30–9:30 a.m., speakers:

  • Linda Hancock, Ph.D., VCU Wellness Center, “Research to Real Life – How to Cross the Divide Between Research Bench and Bar Room.”
  • Danielle Dick, Ph.D., VCU COBE, “Genes, Environment and Substance Use.”

9:45–10:45 a.m., breakout sessions:

Addiction and Treatment

  • Tricia Smith, Ph.D., VCU Department of Biology, “Cells Talking Smack: How Drugs of Abuse Disrupt Cellular Communication?”
  • Caroline Cobb, Ph.D., VCU Department of Psychology, “Vaping and Students: Who’s Puffing What?”
  • Sarah Martinez, The Caron Foundation, “On Thin Ice: Addiction and Family Recovery.”

Prevention and Policy

  • Ananda Amstadter, Ph.D., VCU Department of Health and Behavior Policy, “Trauma Exposure, PTSD, and Alcohol Use among Emerging Adults.”
  • Andrew Barnes, Ph.D., VCU Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, “Virginia’s Opioid Epidemic and Public Policy.”

11 a.m.–noon, breakout sessions:

Early Intervention and Harm Reduction

  • Chris Wagner, Ph.D., VCU Rehabilitation Counseling, Psychology and Psychiatry - “Take-Home Messages from Motivational Interviewing”
  • Jason Lowe, Office of the State Inspector General, “Bringing Naloxone to Virginia.”
  • Treatment and Recovery
  • John Freyer, VCU School of the Arts, “Creating Conversations about Recovery.”
  • Peter Coleman, M.D., The Coleman Institute, “Understanding Medication-Assisted Treatment.”

12:10–12:45 p.m., closing keynote:

  • Justin Luke Riley, executive director, Young People in Recovery, “The Young People’s Recovery Movement.”

1-2 p.m., bonus sessions:

  • Ginny Atwood, The Chris Atwood Foundation, “Naloxone: How to Reverse Opiate Overdoses.” Nasal Naloxone will be available at no cost to participants.
  • Sarah Martinez, The Caron Foundation, “On Thin Ice: Addiction and Family Recovery.” Extended session for professionals.