MORGANTOWN, W.Va.¬†—¬†Almost $7 billion has been allocated to fighting the opioid epidemic across the nation, making it challenging for rural or sparsely populated areas to obtain grant funding for their respective programs.

To aid those entities and organizations in doing so, U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., organized an event to bring Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) representatives to Morgantown.

A workshop was held Wednesday at the WVU College of Law to discuss with those in attendance how to developing competitive SAMHSA grant applications. The event was the first of its kind, as SAMHSA previously held such forums through webinars rather than in-person workshops.

“I think they need to see the eyes of people,” McKinley said. “When you do a webinar, yes, that’s cost effective, but I think it’s important to connect emotionally for our families so they can understand.”

Roger George, branch chief of SAMHSA’s Division of Grants Management, said making that inaugural event happen in West Virginia was an easy choice of location.

“Coming out to West Virginia, our hope is one, to increase more organizations from West Virginia to apply for federal funding; two, to help more West Virginians get successfully funded applications, not only applying but to actually be funded; and three, to see how we can improve our guidance to the communities, what we can do to help obtain and receive more applications from West Virginia,” George said.

To aid in doing so, George and the other SAMHSA presenters went through each aspect that makes for a competitive application, including how to write efficient summary statements, how to thoroughly respond to evaluation criteria and even preparing a budget to submit along with the application.

While it is a lengthy and perhaps challenging process, George said it can really be boiled down to three overall steps.

“Understand what’s required in a budget, so what activities and costs should be associated with the budget,” he said. “Two, understand the funding limit, understand how much you can request, and the third thing simply is, if you’re asking for funds, make sure you’re able to justify it and explain how you came up with those cost estimates.”

Tucker County EMS Director Shelia Marsh was one of many first responders who attended the event, hoping to take away knowledge she could carry back to others in Tucker County.

“I think that drug abuse and mental illness are two of the biggest things in West Virginia that don’t get a lot of care,” Marsh said. “There’s not a lot of money for those people, so they fall through the cracks.”

Although Marsh said she’s never applied for a SAMHSA grant before, she’s hopeful that there’s money out there not only for EMS but for all facets of health care fighting this disease.

“Prevention needs to start with the doctors,” she said. “Doctors need to stop writing all these scripts out for opioids so they don’t get addicted to it at the start.”

McKinley said he felt the event had a lasting effect, not only on the roughly 120 health care professionals who attended but also with the SAMHSA workers who gave presentations during the workshop.

“I think they’re all going to go back with a different impression of what’s actually happening in West Virginia,” he said. “We truly are, as it came out here often enough, this is the epicenter in West Virginia. I think they’re going to go back with a different impression because of the comments and the professionalism people offered.”

Perhaps, McKinley said, that change of insight can even help to fix some shortfalls of how the funding currently operates, one being that everything is based on a year-to-year basis, which he said limits commitment from smaller entities who already have limited funding for day-to-day operations.

“They know they need to have something long-term,” he said. “We’ve got to get all of them on longer funding because no one’s going to start a program or rehabilitation if they can only count on one year of funding.”

While McKinley is already planning ahead to welcome SAMHSA back for future workshops, in the meantime he hopes to offer smaller events to spread information from Wednesday’s event.

“We’ll go around and be their representatives to try to help out because we know how important this thing is all over and not everyone could attend here today, so let’s figure out now how to put on a smaller one in Tucker County or something in Mineral County and do something with 10 or 15 people there,” he said. “The whole idea is to get more people confident enough to put in applications and let’s have a better shot at getting some funds.”

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