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Northam Announces Federal Grant Funding for Collegiate Substance Use Recovery Programs

Tom Bannard (left) and Gov. Ralph Northam (right) speak about Virginia collegiate recovery programs Wednesday morning.
Tom Bannard (left) and Gov. Ralph Northam (right) speak about Virginia collegiate recovery programs Wednesday morning. (Photo: Alan Rodriguez Espinoza)

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced Wednesday morning that federal grant funds will be allocated to several state universities to help pilot substance use recovery programs for students.

The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) awarded $675,000 to Virginia Commonwealth University to help establish programs in eight other schools modeled after VCU’s Rams in Recovery program.

The funds are part of the nearly 40 million federal dollars that Virginia has received from the Department of Health and Human Services over the last two years in the form of State Opioid Response grants.

Tom Bannard, program coordinator for Rams in Recovery, says the program has encouraged “collateral healing” among students battling addiction and substance use disorders by creating a safe environment to seek help.

“It encourages folks to be a little more vocal about their recovery,” Bannard said. “Which then often opens up support for other people to get into and sustain recovery.”

Rams in Recovery places emphasis on community building for students facing substance use disorders and also provides housing and economic assistance for students in recovery.

Mira Signer, Chief Deputy Commissioner for DBHDS, commends Rams in Recovery and says it made for an ideal model to implement at other schools.

“It has the elements that work. It has the programming,” Signer said. “It has the leadership, buy-in, and support from the administration. It has community support from the college. There’s been some time under its belt so you know about the lessons learned and what worked and what didn't and what to duplicate. That’s very powerful.”

Northam also praises the “peer-to-peer relationships and interactions” encouraged by VCU’s program.

“It’s a program that’s been successful here in Richmond,” Northam said. “And now to expand it to the rest of Virginia is very important, and the money will go a long way in helping to do that.”

Michael Zohab, the State Opioid Response Grant manager, says Rams in Recovery has been successful at building awareness among the student body about issues related to substance use disorders. He says the program will provide good guidance to the program at other university campuses.

“These students that are in these recovery programs are the ones that are gonna give students a helping hand up,” Zohan said. “If we save one life in one college all of this is worth it.”

The eight universities that will benefit from the State Opioid Response grant funding are Longwood University, Radford University, University of Mary Washington, University of Richmond, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Union University and Washington and Lee University.

The collegiate recovery programs at these schools will be developed over the next two years.

*VPM News Intern Alan Rodriguez Espinoza reported this story.