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Grant will allow school to provide stipends to doctoral students treating patients at two local facilities

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - GFU will receive a $1.2 million grant to provide counseling for folks struggling with opioid addiction.

The numbers are startling: Every day, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 people in the United States die from an opioid overdose. In 2017, 1.7 million Americans suffered from a substance abuse disorder stemming from opioid prescription drugs and 21 to 29 percent of patients who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain are known to misuse them.

There is no question there is rampant opioid drug abuse in America and that a national response is imperative. Last week, two members of Oregon's congressional delegation announced that federal funding to support prevention and treatment efforts in Oregon will involve a familiar local entity: George Fox University.

The Newberg school is among the recipients of more than $7.8 million in federal grants targeted at efforts to treat and prevent opioid addiction, it was announced by U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, the only other school being Oregon Health & Science University. Specifically, George Fox received a $1.2 million grant to provide integrated care at two locations in the state: the Chemawa Indian School Primary Care Clinic near Keizer and the Providence Medical Group in Newberg.

The money granted to GFU – administered by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – will allow the school to provide $25,000 annual stipends to eight doctoral students for three years. Those students are charged with treating at the two clinics individuals stricken with two disorders that stem from opioid abuse: Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) and Substance Use Disorder (SUD).

All told, according to a press release from the university, each student will provide free services for a minimum of 12 patients per week, meaning that as many as 4,600 patients will be served by the program over the course of a year. The grant also provides funding for telebehavioral health services, what the university described as the practice of using technology to provide access to behavioral health services. The new technology is designed "to reach people in underserved rural areas who experience transportation barriers," the release said.

"This (grant) gives us the opportunity to serve people within our community by taking clinical services to the places they go, rather than expecting them to navigate barriers, which include a lack of mental health benefits, cost and transportation challenges," Mary Peterson, chairwoman of the school's Graduate Department of Clinical Psychology, said. "There is an opioid use epidemic in this state and a dearth of services to rural residents. This is a huge win for both our students and faculty, as well as the people we will serve."

A side benefit is that the grant will provide support for faculty development of a health service psychology component of the schools' doctor of psychology program.

"What this grant does is further the innovative partnership between George Fox and Providence and allow future providers to offer cutting-edge treatment in behavioral health care," Robin Henderson, Providence's chief executive of behavioral health, said. "Normally, these treatments aren't reimbursable. Not only will this help us optimize what we are doing now, but expand upon it and hopefully make it scalable to replicate it." 

The students enrolled in the program are specializing in two emerging areas of practice – medically-assisted teams and telebehavioral health – in settings where the school has already established partnerships, the release said. Roughly 70 percent of the grant, school officials said, will go toward the student stipends and training for students and supervisors. The remainder will cover equipment and stipends for supervision.

"This really puts George Fox on the radar in the field of integrated health services," Peterson said. "And it strengthens relationships at Chemawa and with Providence that we already had, building off a foundation we've built the last several years."

Peterson praised the efforts of a two people instrumental in landing the grant – Glena Andrews, the GFU director of clinical training in the school's psychology program, and Kristie Knows His Gun, director of the program's primary care track. She also lauded Merkeley's help in the process as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"I have heard heart-wrenching stories from Oregonians who have lost loved ones after a prescription for an injury or treatment turned into an addiction," Merkley said in a release. "The opioid crisis will require a multi-pronged approach and that's why in addition to introducing the Opioid Treatment Surge Act, which would require the drug companies that flooded the market with improperly marketed opioid drugs to pay for a dramatic increase in treatment, I've used my seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to fight for these grant resources. This funding will support programs that are critical to helping our communities respond to this crisis and save lives."

Wyden mirrored Merkley's comments: "Oregon communities battling the opioid abuse that's devastating families across our state can use these resources to make real gains in substance use treatment and prevention. … All these steps are needed urgently to reverse the human cost of opioid abuse that surfaces far too often in Oregon homes and neighborhoods."

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