WHEELING — Collecting and analyzing drug abuse and addiction data from police, 911 dispatch, hospitals and first-responders is the first goal of the Ohio Valley Research Consortium: a group of eight top administrations of higher education institutions.
The group is evenly divided between Ohio and West Virginia based colleges and universities. The Ohio schools include Belmont College, Eastern Gateway Community College, Franciscan University and Ohio University Eastern Campus. Bethany College, West Liberty University, West Virginia Northern Community College and Wheeling Jesuit University make up the schools located in West Virginia.
The higher education leaders are excited about the opportunity to collaborate with one another in order to make a difference in the Ohio Valley. “The consortium provides a wonderful opportunity for area colleges to combine their strengths and resources with those of community partners to do research that could really benefit our region,” said Ohio University Eastern Campus Dean Paul Abraham. “The research experiences for faculty and students will also benefit the academic missions of our campuses.”
For the group, the next step toward reaching that goal is to apply in February for a Smart & Connected Communities grant through the National Science Foundation.
The grant the group is eyeing would provide money for the schools’ research, science and statistics professionals to create tools for data collection and analysis of illicit drug activity, drug abuse and addiction, overdoses, and more.
But before submitting the grant application, the group came together to make official their working relationship.
The members gathered recently at Wheeling Jesuit University to sign a memorandum of understanding, making their working relationship an official, non-profit entity focused on fixing some important community ills. This was the fourth meeting of the full group.
“This sets up the non-profit organization, establishing the consortium that works across state lines, including faith-based, private, as well as public institutions,” said U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., who founded the consortium and continues as its leader.
“Where we can go with this could really reset the tone of the Ohio Valley. This is how we are going to grow this valley.”
The group, which also will involve members of Congress who represent areas of the Ohio Valley, also plans on looking at economic development as well as job growth — both issues members have said are related to the drug problem.
West Virginia’s drug overdose death rate has been the highest in the nation and more than double the national average, according to a 2015 report by Trust for American’s Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It cites 2011-13 statistics that show 34 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 West Virginians, compared to the national average of 13.4 deaths.
The problem is significant throughout the Ohio Valley, including Ohio, group members say. “The first research topic, drug abuse awareness and prevention, hits the nail right on the head in terms of importance,” said Abraham. “I greatly appreciate Congressman McKinley’s leadership and vision in bringing us together.”
Applying for the grant is the idea of the consortium’s subgroup that meets weekly to discuss drug addiction solutions, said Chris Petrosino, dean of graduate and professional studies at Wheeling Jesuit, and a member of that subgroup.
“Bringing the universities together … is making a significant impact on the community,” he said. “If awarded the grant, it will involve pooling our group’s human resources … but also resources we have in statistics, research and science.”
“We’re not just disemminators of information,” he said of the higher-education institutions involved. “But we are creators (as well).”
Also among the group’s future initiatives are to look at environmental issues created mainly by the oil and natural gas industry, and employment.
Libby Reasbeck, field representative for McKinley’s office who does a lot of the ground work for the group, said she’s excited about the group’s ideas, and said it provides a unity that other communities could follow.
Those signing the memorandum Monday include: Vicki Riley, president of West Virginia Northern Community College; Mark Phillips, chief of staff for Wheeling Jesuit University; Stephen Greiner, president of West Liberty University; Paul Abraham, dean of Ohio University Eastern; David Skiviat, vice president of finance and administration, Franciscan University; Larry Grimes, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty; and Paul Gasparro, president of Belmont College.