CHARLESTON – With more than a dozen games visited and more scheduled across the state through the rest of football season, the second year of West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's Opioid Abuse Prevention Game of the Week is proving as successful as the first, he says.

"I am very dedicated to fighting this issue on as many fronts as possible from a supply, demand and educational perspective," Morrisey said in an email interview with The West Virginia Record. "We need to work together to fight this horrible epidemic and make a positive difference for everyone who has been affected.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

"We are strongest when we work together."

The game of the week is periodically announced though football season, which continues into November. More recently, the Brooke-Morgantown football matchup on Sept. 15 and the earlier gridiron matchup between Petersburg and Pendleton County were selected as games of the week in the program.

Now in its second consecutive year, the program engaged with teams and communities at dozens of games across West Virginia during football season in 2016, according to a press release issued by the attorney general's office.

Staff from the office staffs an information booth at the selected high school sporting event and distribute opioid abuse awareness materials, according to the press release. 

"Field representatives also discuss the dangers of opioid use with the respective coaches and provide educational material for display and distribution in the schools to foster more discussion of the issue," the press release said.

The initiative is part of a broader partnership to fight opioid use among high school athletes between the attorney general's office, West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission and the West Virginia Board of Medicine. The concern is that opioid painkillers may be unnecessary used to treat athletic injuries and that could lead to increased dependence, abuse and addiction, according to the press release.

"Opioid painkillers may temporarily relieve pain, but do nothing to address the underlying injury and can have serious side effects," the press release said. "The medication also carries striking similarities to heroin."

The 2016 football season proved the success of the program, Morrisey told The West Virginia Record.

"It was very successful," Morrisey said. "We attended approximately 60 games last year and had positive feedback from everyone involved."

The Opioid Abuse Prevention Game of the Week is not the only opioid project for Morrisey, sworn into office Jan. 14, 2013, and the first Republican in the office since 1933. Recently, Morrisey announced his leading role in a bipartisan coalition of 37 states and territories urging health insurance companies examine financial incentives that contribute to the opioid epidemic in West Virginia.

The bipartisan coalition announced a two-step strategy Sept. 18 intended to identify problematic policies and encourage reforms to spur increased use of non-opioid alternatives for treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain. Morrisey's faith-based initiative Combating Addiction with Grace was conducted in Wheeling on Sept. 14 at Wheeling Jesuit University.

It may be too early to speculate about a third year for the program, but Morrisey said he maintains great hopes for the present season.

"I hope that we continue to spread awareness and work toward an environment of prevention," Morrisey said. "It is so important that we reach young people so that the next generation and generations after don’t start down the path that has led us to this point."

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