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WV Game Changer Announces Partnership to Bring Substance Use Prevention to More Students

CHARLESTON, WV – Today, Gov. Jim Justice, the “Head Coach and General Manager” of the WV Game Changer initiative, announced that a coalition of private collaborators, including WV Game Changer, the West Virginia Drug Intervention Institute, and the world-renowned Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, is developing a plan to bring a new, comprehensive, evidence-based approach to substance use prevention to students and schools throughout the state.

“I’ve said many times that our kids are the greatest treasure we have in West Virginia, and we need to do everything in our power to combat substance use from the classroom to help ensure our children the brightest future possible,” Gov. Justice said. “I thank WV Game Changer, the Drug Intervention Institute, and Hazelden Betty Ford for joining forces and working with our school systems to make a powerful difference for the next generation of West Virginians.”

Another collaborator in the effort is the BARR (Building Assets, Reducing Risks) Center, a national nonprofit dedicated to educational best practices.

Gov. Justice initially announced the multi-organization partnership during his State of the State address on Feb. 10. During the address, he recognized WV Game Changer Executive Director Joe Boczek, Hazelden Betty Ford President and CEO Mark G. Mishek, and the BARR Center’s Founder and Executive Director Angela Jerabek.

WV Game Changer is a West Virginia-based, youth-led prevention, positive development, and community enhancement initiative, designed to educate, support, and empower young people to help each other make healthy choices as they strive to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Hazelden Betty Ford is the nation’s largest nonprofit system of addiction treatment, mental health care, recovery resources, and related prevention and education services. Hazelden Betty Ford and WV Game Changer are collaborating with the West Virginia Drug Intervention Institute to develop a new prevention initiative that integrates multiple evidence-based practices with WV Game Changer’s powerful peer-to-peer approach in a collaborative effort with schools to reach all of West Virginia’s 283,000 students.

The new integrated approach will be designed to work alongside the BARR model, a holistic and foundational prevention approach that has been proven to reduce risky behaviors among students, including decreasing the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, as well as reducing academic failure, truancy, and disciplinary incidents among youth.

BARR Center partners closely with Hazelden Betty Ford to implement its evidence-based universal prevention model nationally. The BARR model has been adopted in more than 180 K-12 schools in the United States, including six of West Virginia’s 755 public schools already.

“Coupled with Governor Justice’s unequivocal support as Head Coach of WV Game Changer and our good fortune to enter into this partnership with the world-renowned Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the West Virginia Drug Intervention Institute, and others, there is no doubt we will indeed Change the Game in West Virginia and the nation with the cutting edge, evidenced-based prevention programs we will be offering to students of every age,” said Joe Boczek, Executive Director of WV Game Changer.

“The West Virginia Drug Intervention Institute is honored to partner with WV Game Changer and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation to implement evidence-based programming aimed to combat substance misuse for students throughout West Virginia,” said Dr. Susan Bissett, WV DII President. “The partnership complements our current educational programming and is aimed at helping students make good choices by providing them a thorough education on substance use disorder.”

“In this challenging period in our nation’s history, students, teachers, families, and schools are experiencing significant stress and strain, which is increasing risks for substance use, mental health issues, and negative educational consequences for young people,” said Mark G. Mishek, President and CEO of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. “A comprehensive, evidence-based focus on education and prevention is so important to helping keep students on positive trajectories and identifying those who need help and direction early on, so that chronic, lifelong mental health and substance use disorders and other negative outcomes do not occur.”

“We at the BARR Center are excited for the opportunity to reach even more students through the first statewide implementation of the BARR model. Our tagline says it all: ‘Same Students. Same Teachers. Better Results,’” said BARR’s Founder and Executive Director Angela Jerabek. “We look forward to partnering with the state on their increased focus to help each and every student succeed by using relationships and data to create resilient, healthy, and compassionate leaders of tomorrow.”

WV Game Changer is a youth-led, adult-based, prevention, peer-to-peer influence, positive youth development, and community enhancement initiative designed to educate, support, and empower our youth to make healthy choices as they strive to be our leaders of tomorrow.