LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) - The University of Kentucky has received its largest grant ever, $87 million, to combat the opioid epidemic in Kentucky and across the nation.
The four-year study has the goal of reducing opioid overdose deaths by 40 percent in 16 counties that represent more than a third of Kentucky’s population.
Researchers from UK’s Center on Drug and Alcohol Research, in partnership with the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, will lead a project as part of the National Institutes of Health Helping to End Addiction Long term, or HEAL, initiative, and is one of only four study sites across the nation.
The goal is to develop evidence-based solutions to the opioid crisis and offer new hope for individuals, families and communities affected by this devastating crisis. More broadly, the idea is to see if solutions in different communities across the state can be scaled up and replicated as part of a national approach to the challenge.
The award was announced Thursday by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar at a press conference in Washington D.C.
“The opioid epidemic does not discriminate by zip code, race, income, or any other demographic characteristic,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “It is not a character or moral failing, but an illness. It's unforgiving. It touches us all. We all know someone — a member of our family, a loved one, a lifelong friend or classmate — whose life has been damaged by this illness. Its victims are us. But there is hope. There is us. That is why we believe aggressive, ambitious change is possible. Indeed, it is essential. That is why we believe we can, and must, lead the way.”
The study will focus on Fayette, Jessamine, Clark, Kenton, Campbell, Mason, Greenup, Carter, Boyd, Knox, Jefferson, Franklin, Boyle, Madison, Bourbon and Floyd counties, areas which had 764 opioid overdose deaths in 2017 with two-thirds of them involving fentanyl. They also represent about 40 percent of the state’s overall population of more than 4 million people.
UK says their researchers will work closely with community coalition partners to ensure a community-centered approach and to maximize engagement. In addition, a comprehensive health communication strategy will be used to reach the public, reduce stigma and increase awareness of and access to the interventions available through the program.
The study’s aims also include:
--Improving and expanding opioid use disorder treatment by increasing the use of medications in treatment,
--Expanding overdose prevention by increasing OD training, naloxone distribution and fentanyl test strip distribution for individuals at high risk for opioid OD, and
--Reducing the opioid supply by decreasing high-risk opioid prescribing and dispensing practices through targeted education and increasing safe disposal of unused opioids.
“Kentuckians in both rural and urban communities continue to endure the serious damage of substance abuse. Unfortunately, Kentucky is one of the hardest hit states, but we’re also on the forefront of the national response,” said U. S. Senator Mitch McConnell. “As Senate Majority Leader, I continue to work closely with Secretary Azar and NIH Director Francis Collins to deliver critical NIH funding to Kentucky, so the vital medical research at the University of Kentucky can continue benefitting communities across the Commonwealth.”
Kentucky Sixth District Congressman Andy Barr, R-Lexington, in whose district UK is located, said, “I have been a strong and consistent advocate for the University of Kentucky’s initiatives to combat the opioid crisis, and I was particularly proud to support their application for the HEALing Communities Study. Kentucky has the fifth-highest overdose mortality rate in the nation, and it is essential that we continue to secure these resources for the Commonwealth to combat this tragic crisis.”
“The opioid epidemic is one of the most perilous and persistent challenges impacting our state and nation,” said Gov. Matt Bevin. “Kentucky is grateful to Secretary Azar and HHS for this historic grant allocation, and we look forward to collaborating closely with the University of Kentucky to implement this vital work. We are confident that this transformative project will be a pivotal weapon in our ongoing battle against the opioid scourge and will ultimately help to save lives in communities across the Commonwealth.”