Gov. McAuliffe announces partnership with George Mason University to combat fatal drug overdoses

Fairfax, Va.­­–– George Mason University is working with the Commonwealth of Virginia to reduce substance abuse and fatal drug overdoses, the number one cause of accidental death in Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services received an $8.3 million federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The grant will fund a project based at Mason called the Virginia Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment project (VA-SBIRT).

Mason will train and connect health care and behavioral health specialists at 11 clinics in the Northern Virginia and Shenandoah Valley regions as they work together to identify and address substance abuse in these communities.

“This collaborative approach is an important part of our work to bring positive change to the lives of the many Virginians who are struggling with the pain of addiction,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said. “Substance abuse is hurting families across the nation, and Virginia is not immune to this national crisis.

Fatal drug overdoses are the most common cause of accidental death in Virginia. Deaths from prescription drug overdoses doubled in Virginia over the past 15 years, while heroin-related deaths tripled from 2011 to 2015.”

As Virginia’s largest public research university, Mason has the faculty talent necessary to address a national problem that’s on our doorstep, said Ángel Cabrera, Mason president.

“As a public research university, we are committed to producing research of consequence that helps improve the lives of people in our community. We are pleased that the Commonwealth of Virginia has chosen Mason to lead this critical effort,” Cabrera said. “Our work will draw upon the knowledge and expertise of an interdisciplinary group of Mason faculty. It will also provide participatory research and experiential learning opportunities for our students, who will see first-hand the value and impact of their work.”

Under the leadership of Dr. Lora Peppard from the School of Nursing and College of Health and Human Services, Mason will unite experts from eight distinct disciplines who will work as a team to train and assist health care practitioners at the individual clinics with screening and treatment. This project will help front-line health care professionals curb risky and problematic drug use in its beginning stages by helping them systematically identify risk factors and offer drug abuse screening. Individuals who need help will receive counseling and appropriate treatment and supportive services.

Mason also is creating a central data depository so health care professionals can analyze trends in the field and improve strategies for addressing the substance abuse crisis. This health care exchange is expected to serve as a model for statewide implementation.

“This project is a great example of Mason’s collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to research and learning,” Deborah Crawford, Mason’s vice president for research, said. “By working together across disciplines and by harnessing the power of technology, Mason’s research of consequence is leading the way in generating outcomes that make a real difference in the lives of the people in the region and the state.”

“At Mason we are showing how evidence-based research can be used to address a growing public health crisis,” Thomas Prohaska, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, said. “Combining training and data monitoring allows us to develop effective treatment strategies to address substance abuse.”

Media contact: Michael Sandler, 703-993-8815,

About George Mason University

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls more than 33,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. Learn more at