UK gets $87 million federal grant to reduce opioid-overdose deaths in 16 counties by 40 percent in the next four years

The National Institutes of Health has awarded the University of Kentucky up to $87 million over the next four years, with the goal of reducing opioid-overdose deaths by 40 percent in 16 counties: Fayette, Bourbon, Franklin, Jessamine, Clark, Madison, Boyle, Jefferson, Knox, Floyd, Carter, Boyd, Greenup, Mason, Campbell and Kenton.

“These counties aren’t necessarily the worst hit by the crisis, but each had to meet certain criteria, which included having a jail, at least 25 opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 population, a needle exchange program, and one or more providers who offer medication assisted therapy, such as buprenorphine, for opioid addiction,” reports Linda Blackford of the Lexington Herald-Leader. “State health officials have tried to increase the amount of medication assisted therapy available for opioid addiction, but it is not standard practice in numerous treatment centers or hospitals. Drugs such as buprenorphine can satisfy the addictive cravings of opioid use disorders, but they also can be abused or resold on the street.”

Blackford adds, “Combined, the 16 rural and metropolitan counties had 764 opioid overdose deaths in 2017, with two-thirds of them involving fentanyl, UK officials said. They also represent about 40 percent of the state’s overall population.”

The grant, by far the largest competitive award UK has ever received, is one of four totaling $350 million. The others went to the Boston Medical Center in Massachusetts, Columbia University in New York City and Ohio State University. It also involves the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, said in a release, “This partnership between the NIH, NIDA and UK was sparked several years ago during the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit, when I invited [UK President] Dr. Eli Capilouto to share his vision for this project with Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH and Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIDA.”

The grant’s leader in Kentucky will be In Kentucky, the grant’s principal investigator will be Sharon Walsh, director of the UK Center on Drug and Alcohol Research. She will work with the state health and justice cabinets “to lead a team of 20 researchers and community partners,” Blackford reports.

Walsh told her, “The goal is to show meaningful change in the overdose death rate in a short period of time and to do so in a way that can reveal what evidence-based interventions are effective in the community. What will work? Is it distributing more naloxone? Is it educating people better about evidence-based treatment? Is it expanding access to treatment and decreasing barriers? For example, if we pay for someone to have transportation to get to their treatment program will that help them stay in treatment?”

Rogers’ release said, “The first year of the study will focus on collecting data, assessing local needs, and determining the best prevention and treatment interventions to implement in each community through healthcare, behavioral health and justice systems. . . . The four-year grant will allow UK to earn full funding each year as benchmarks are achieved.”
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