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White House representative visits West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine

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LEWISBURG, W.Va. — Ph.D., Rahul Gupta, M.D., the first physician to serve as the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is a component of the Executive Office of the President, visited the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) on June 10 for a roundtable discussion.

During his visit to Lewisburg, Gupta met with WVSOM students, local physicians and other individuals who impact local health care. The event focused on discussions related to substance use disorder (SUD) and recovery, and the many community partnerships and programs WVSOM has created to try to curtail the opioid epidemic.

During introductory remarks, WVSOM President James W. Nemitz, Ph.D., thanked Gupta and his team for the work they are doing at the national level that positively impacts individuals in rural Appalachia.

“WVSOM has taken the lead in West Virginia to provide innovative, high-quality programs to prevent substance use disorder in future generations, we provide treatment services in a social service model, we assist in rebuilding the lives of those in recovery so that they can become productive members of society and we are leading the way on an array of holistic modalities to help people with SUD maintain recovery,” Nemitz said.

WVSOM has impacted communities by addressing the substance use epidemic through Drema Hill, Ph.D., MSP, WVSOM’s vice president for community engagement and development, who serves as the public health expert to the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office, working on the abatement side of the opioid settlements; providing programs through the medical school’s Center for Rural and Community Health to provide prevention, care, treatment and recovery services to those with substance use disorder and their families; and offering opioid education to medical students so they understand appropriate treatment options for future patients.

Gupta said he was impressed with how WVSOM has been able to foster relationships when it comes to substance use disorder education, both for its students and the community in which physicians serve.

“We know the value of relationships,” Gupta said. “Osteopathic medicine is so critical and important. In a time when we have gaps in health care, it’s so critical that you all think about curricula in addiction medicine and those areas where people need the most help.”

Nemitz said that the core of osteopathic medicine is taking into account a person’s mind, body and spirit, and that osteopathic physicians see every person as important.

“Every individual has the capability of self-regulation, self-healing and self-maintenance,” he said. “We have to provide the circumstances, attitudes and access to treatment to these individuals to assist those with substance use disorder on their journey. WVSOM is always willing to help. Medical school is more than a place where people get educated. We are a leader in the community in helping people become healthier.”

Gupta told attendees that more than 1,400 West Virginians were lost last year due to drug overdoses, and current administration has allocated $15 billion for addiction treatment to West Virginia, equaling a little over $8,000 per resident.

He said fentanyl is of great concern nationally as it continues to permeate the illicit drug supply, and Naloxone, an overdose-reversing medication, is a vital element in the national response.

“You can’t feed dead people,” Gupta said. “Naloxone will soon be available over the counter in pharmacies, right next to Tylenol … Just like defibrillators don’t cause heart attacks, Naloxone isn’t enabling addiction.”

During the nearly hourlong roundtable discussion, the main barriers roundtable participants identified for rural communities are transportation and sustainable housing.

Naloxone has proven to help overdose victims, but having access to Naloxone boxes in rural areas is difficult. One of the ways that the state could fix the problem is by offering Naloxone vending machines, according to Jennifer Crane, a collegiate peer recovery support specialist at WVSOM.

“There are people living in abandoned homes who aren’t getting Naloxone … That’s something that is close to my heart and that is what I’m trying to get done,” she said, after sharing that her younger brother passed away in an abandoned drug house.

Gupta said that states have been asked to put together Naloxone acquisition and distribution plans, which will better assist states in receiving additional funding.

“For West Virginians to be able to succeed, they need to be given an opportunity to succeed,” he said.

Additionally, Gupta presented Nemitz with a presidential challenge coin — a symbol of honorary membership given to military personnel, foreign dignitaries and other notable individuals — for his vision and medical school’s work in substance use disorder education. The tradition of the presidential challenge coin began with U.S. President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. In the time since, each successive president has designed their own unique coin.

After the roundtable, Gupta continued discussions with WVSOM students about medical care in rural areas. 

WVSOM is a national leader in educating osteopathic physicians for primary care medicine in rural areas. Visit WVSOM online at