The Mid-Ohio Valley is all too familiar with the footprint that substance use disorder (SUD) makes on a community. Like in many communities in West Virginia and Ohio, this footprint seems difficult to erase, as the effects of SUD are reverberated through different social ecosystems, disrupting lives and upending others.

A local group of funders in the Mid-Ohio Valley engaged in an in-depth process to better understand how substance use disorder was impacting the community. A common theme that surfaced during this process was the need for a central point person to coordinate collaborations and programs that address SUD. This person, the Substance Use Disorder Collaborative Director, will develop cross-sector partnerships and programs that address prevention, treatment, and ways to create supportive communities for people in recovery.

The area funders found the future SUD Collaborative Director in John Leite, a Lima, Ohio native with experience in bringing collaborations to fruition. His position is jointly funded by the Bernard McDonough Foundation, the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation, the Sisters Health Foundation, the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley, and the Fenton Foundation.

“The experience of collaborating with our local funding partners to co-launch and co-fund John’s position has been a positive one, “ SHF Executive Director Renee Steffen said. “The collective decision to create this position was grounded in feedback we were hearing from the community.”

Leite is not new to building collaborative relationships. An Ohio University alumnus, Leite worked for the Healthcare Collaborative of Greater Columbus, where he focused in improving health care for all people in Central Ohio by mobilizing collaboration among public and private partners. He also worked for InteraSolutions, where he developed the expansion of the use of the company’s Screen for Opioid Abuse Risk (SOAR) assessment tool throughout the state of Ohio.

John has led projects that brought together diverse groups to address communication challenges among healthcare providers, design alternative drug sentencing programs, implement technology platforms, and improve health outcomes.

“Oftentimes, the need to collaborate stems from barriers to communication,” Leite said. Many of the collective impact projects he has led were designed to remove those barriers. One such project was to improve the connection within the “medical neighborhood” of providers and agencies through a shared referral technology platform. Leite found that the barriers included a lack of awareness among project participants of the services offered at other organizations involved and an unstandardized strategy of making referrals to outside agencies.

“Through this process we not only improved the efficiency of referrals between organizations, but also brought awareness to the services that were being offered in the community.” The average referral confirmation time decreased from two weeks to less than three days.

As the SUD Collaborative Director, Leite envisions his goal as having all members of the community participate, “regardless of their perceived involvement with substance use disorder.” True collaboration means that “everyone needs to have the ability to come to the table,” he continued. “All collaboratives should be structured to empower the community to take ownership of the work so that the impact will continue long after the formal structure of the group is gone.”

“In order to treat and prevent addiction, we need to address the things that have contributed to a person using; such as mental health, chronic illness, social isolation, etc. In order to do that, we will need the support of everyone in the community, from recovery centers to local grocery stores.”

Through a partnership with West Virginia University at Parkersburg, Leite’s office will be located at WVUP on Market, 414 Market Street in Parkersburg. Leite can be reached at, 419-303-4081.