UVI gets $900K from feds for subtance abuse, HIV program

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The University of the Virgin Islands has received $900,000 in federal funds that it will use to develop a substance abuse and HIV prevention program with the goal of reducing drug use and abuse, and preventing the transmission of HIV infections among college students and other young adults in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Virgin Islands is ranked No. 2 in the nation, based on rate per capita, for reported HIV cases, and a major component of the program will be targeted at reducing HIV-related risk factors such as substance abuse - primarily alcohol and marijuana - among college students and young adults, according to program Director Doris Battiste.

The No. 2 ranking is according to the V.I. Health Department's HIV Surveillance 2010 Annual Report.

Battiste, UVI's dean of students on the St. Thomas campus, said the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is providing $300,000 per year for three years through its Division of Community Programs to support the territory-wide effort.

"This grant recognizes the prevalence of substance abuse and the high rate of HIV infection in the Virgin Islands," she said in a prepared statement.

"Surveys show that alcohol is the main drug of choice on college campuses nationwide, and UVI is no different. It's a problem on our campus and in our community and we need to address it," Battiste said. "The consequences of alcohol abuse lead to poor decision-making, irresponsible behavior, domestic violence, sexual assault and lower GPA when compared to those who do not drink."

Following alcohol, the illegal use of marijuana is the second biggest substance use issue in the territory, she said.

The program will target African American and Hispanic students between the ages of 18 and 24, both on UVI's campuses on St. Thomas and St. Croix, as well as other young adults throughout the territory.

Early objectives are to increase the number of individuals getting tested for HIV for the first time and decreasing the consumption of alcohol and other drugs among these individuals.

The project, which continues through the fall of 2016, also will help increase the amount of on- and off-campus outreach events and activities conducted in the territory, according to Battiste.

The program also provides training for student peer educators on both St. Thomas and St. Croix, who share accurate messages about drugs, alcohol and HIV with their fellow students and members of the larger community.

For more information about the UVI Substance Abuse and HIV Prevention Program, contact the program's staff at 693-1120 or 693-1122.

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