CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – West Virginia officials joined to announce the launch of a student-powered opioid and substance misuse prevention program.

West Virginia Game Changers, Harrison County Board of Education, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and others held an announcement on Tuesday afternoon at the Harrison County Board of Education building in Clarksburg.

“The Game Changers in-school prevention program will be implemented in three Harrison County schools starting in the fall of 2022, including Lincoln High School, Lincoln Middle School and Big Elm Elementary,” said Gov. Justice.

Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) announces that three Harrison County schools have been chosen to be the pilot of the West Virginia Game Changers program. (WBOY Image)

That was the big announcement from the West Virginia Game Changers, an organization aimed at keeping opioid and substance misuse out of schools and providing education on the subject.

According to a press release from Gov. Justice, “The Game Changers initiative focuses on building school environments that curb students drug use by implementing, monitoring and sustaining Game CHangers student peer leadership programs. Paid coaches assigned to each school will work with school counselors, teachers and the Prevention Team at Hazelden Betty Ford to educate and counsel students and provide resources for those facing or at-risk of addiction. The goal is to keep healthy kids healthy, providing them with the information and skills they need to make their own best choices and about alcohol and other drugs throughout the growing years and beyond.”

The organization was started back in 2018, but the idea started several years before that for Executive Director Joe Boczek, whose daughter struggled with opioid use in college.

WV Game Changer Executive Director Joe Boczek announces that three Harrison County schools will be the pilot to the program. (WBOY Image)

“Through the grace of God, after three terrible years on my family and her, she is well and has been well for 10 years,'” said Boczek. “Unfortunately, I have friends who weren’t so lucky, so fortunate. We have my daughter–so many of my friends have their children in the ground, and this just has to stop.”

Boczek’s dream of helping kids has become a reality with Tuesday’s announcement and those three schools kicking off the pilot next fall.

Harrison County Schools Superintendent Dora Stutler, who also serves on the Game Changers Board of Directors, was honored to be chosen as the first school system to see the program.

Harrison County Schools Superintendent Dora Stutler speaks at the WV Game Changers announcement. (WBOY Image)

“Well, I don’t think words are enough to express our gratitude and thankfulness, really, that Game Changers chose Harrison County,” said Stutler. “I’ve been very fortunate to be part of the Game Changers board, and so, they brought me in, and I can’t think of anything better for Harrison County and our students.”

Gov. Justice, who will serve as the organization’s “head coach”, also felt honored to be involved.

“I’m 1,000% on board. And from the standpoint of where I’m at, I’m honored,” said Gov. Justice.

The program is made possible by help from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, which will provide resources and more to the paid coaches in each school.

“Substance misuse prevention education for children is a human right,” said Desirae Vasquez, Director of Professional Education and Continuum Solutions programming for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. “We are pleased and proud to bring our model to the incredibly deserving children, teens and young adults in all West Virginia schools.”

“West Virginia people are resilient. West Virginia people are hard-working. And, West Virginia people care. There can be no better place than to have a pilot program such as this in West Virginia to show the nation what we can do because it’s not just a state problem-it’s a national problem,” said Boczek.

WV Game Changers is hoping to implement the program in more schools throughout the state soon, with the program in all West Virginia schools by the fall of 2027.