Kat Virula
News Editor

Opioid addiction is a public health crisis that is happening all across the nation. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, shows that more than 130 people a day die from opioid-related overdoses and nearly 80 percent of heroin users reported misusing prescription opioids prior to heroin. Drug overdose is the most common cause of accidental death in the country and the majority of these fatalities involve heroin and opioid painkillers. 

Opioid addiction is also one of our most misunderstood addictions. Whom or what is to blame for this is not clear and should be the subject of greater discussion. So far, most of the blame has been placed at the doorstep of illicit drug dealers and toward the people suffering from their own addictions.  

“If someone is diagnosed with diabetes and they have an issue, we don’t show them passed out, we don’t show them eating cookies and snacks as diabetics or someone with heart disease eating cheeseburgers, but we do that with addictions. The result is people with substance use issues or other addictions like behavioral addictions start to feel a tremendous amount of shame and embarrassment and they don’t get help,” quotes Dr. Alex Redcay, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Millersville University.

She is the principal investigator on the $1.35 million three-year grant from the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration. This grant will help combat the opioid crisis. According to Redcay, the bulk of the money is for Millersville students interested in becoming experts in addiction and recovery. They will receive $840,000 in scholarships. 

Redcay explicitly explains how important this grant is for students. “The purpose of the grant is to educate people properly in the area of prevention, treatment, and recovery.” 

Redcay has been working for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education  (PAASHE) since 2014 and has been at Millersville since 2016. Being a professor that’s still relatively new at the university, getting a grant this large is a huge accomplishment, 

“I’ve written five or six grant proposals before, but this is the first $1 million award,” says Redcay. “I feel like I won the lottery on behalf of our students. It feels great.”

The proposal was submitted in April and Millersville was notified that the grant was awarded on Aug. 8.  Redcay worked closely with Dr. René Muñoz, director of Sponsored Programs and Research Administration, to meet the April deadline. “René definitely deserves credit,” says Redcay. “He did the second most amount of work to secure this grant; he helped me write it and sat with me for 12 hours on the day it was due to finalize it. I am so grateful for his expertise in grant writing. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have gotten this grant.  I can’t say enough about René; he’s smart, talented and a nice, easy person to work with.”

The majority of the grant is broken down into 84 scholarships for $10,000 each to Millersville students enrolled in the Master of Social Work (MSW) or the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) starting this fall and lasting for three years. Redcay states the three elements that the grant actually does: 

“We offer $840,000 dollars in scholarships for students. The eligible recipients are MSW students. Now we have combined programs, so we have a combined program with emergency management, sports management, and DNP students, so doctoral, doctorate and nursing practitioners, so any of those programs would qualify. Those are the folks that are eligible, but if you have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, come to the master’s program in social work, and you can be eligible for those scholarships. So MSW students receive $10,000 dollars, DNP students receive $28,000 and I think it’s $352, so it’s a pretty sweet deal. The grant will alleviate the financial burden for our students while at the same time providing the opportunity to receive specialized knowledge and to develop their expertise in addiction: prevention, treatment, and recovery,” says Redcay. “We’ll also be developing a new curriculum for classes to expand students’ knowledge of addiction.”

While the grant title is “Opioid Workforce Expansion Program” Redcay says it’s not just about opioids. “It’s about all addictions. We want to meet the needs of the community,” says Redcay, “Social workers don’t make a lot of money. They get into the area because they want to help others.  Since they don’t get paid a lot of money, they have a rare opportunity to get a $10,000 scholarship so they can worry less about loans and can focus on helping others.”

“We want MSW and DNP students who are interested in working in the addiction field to apply,” says Redcay. “We are very interested in students, or potential students, who are in recovery. We’ll work with that person because they understand the field better than others. The first scholarships will be given out this fall to eligible students. Now the requirements for scholarship recipients, there are three requirements. They have to be in an approved internship that fits the grant requirements. Two, they have to take two graduate-level courses related to addictions over the year of their internship. So it’s all a one year sort of grant, one-year scholarship program,” Redcay continues,  “During that one year, they’re placed in this advanced-level internship, they take these two graduate-level courses preferably one per semester, and then they attend six pieces of training that will be a total of 30 continuing education hours. It’d be three semesters focused specifically on one on prevention, one on treatment, and one on recovery. They’re required to attend and once they complete all of those things, we hand them a check and say, ‘go buy a car’ or whatever they want.”

Dr. Kelly Kuhns, associate professor and chair of nursing is the co-principal investigator with Redcay says, “The grant will allow our DNP students to acquire a placement/internship related to addiction.” Kuhns continues, “They may be placed in police departments, so when a call comes in about an addicted person it becomes not just a criminal justice matter, but a treatment matter as well.”

Other faculty involved with the grant include Dr. Marc Felizzi, associate professor of social work; Dr. Laura Granruth, assistant professor of social work; and Dr. Karen Rice, associate professor and chair of social work. Also assisting will be Tammy Carson, Millersville’s social work field coordinator.

According to Millersville, in addition to the scholarships, the grant will pay for three training events per semester related to prevention, treatment and recovery and a new program coordinator to schedule and arrange the events. The events will be for the scholarship recipients and the community. “We will have trainers to help our students become experts in addiction recovery to the best of their ability…So our students will come out with marketable skills and jobs,” says Redcay.