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UK researchers awarded NIH grant to fight drug abuse in rural Kentucky counties

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded the UK Center for Health Services Research (CHSR) funding to study the adoption of syringe exchange programs in rural communities in the Appalachian region of Kentucky.

Rates of opioid use disorder and injection drug use have risen significantly in Kentucky, especially in rural communities. The serious health consequences of injection drug use include the spread of both hepatitis C and HIV. Kentucky is home to eight of the 10 counties in the nation that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified as most vulnerable to an outbreak of HIV.

CHSR’s focus on community efforts to end health disparities in underserved areas aligned closely with the NIH funding opportunity to examine drug use interventions.

The two-year National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded study is designed to reach vulnerable injection-drug users in Clark, Knox and Pike counties. The goal is to understand the many barriers that drug users face in accessing syringe exchange programs and to identify priority intervention targets.

The project’s principal investigator, Hilary Surratt, associate professor in the UK College of Medicine, is working closely with the Clark, Knox and Pike county health departments to gather data from drug users, health department staff, treatment providers and law enforcement.

This data will inform changes to policies and practices of syringe exchange programs and develop prevention strategies to enhance access and utilization of these programs in rural areas.


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Researchers and health policy leaders from UK discussed how to combat drug abuse during this year's National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit.

UK brings expertise to national summit on opioid drug crisis

Addiction researchers, clinicians, intervention coordinators and health policy leaders from UK and UK HealthCare are taking part in a national conversation this week focused on combating the opioid drug crisis.

The National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit, taking place April 17-20 in Atlanta, is the largest national collaboration of professionals from local, state and federal agencies, business, academia, treatment providers, and allied communities impacted by prescription drug abuse and heroin use. It was introduced in 2012 under the leadership of Operation UNITE and U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-5th) with the purpose of alleviating the burden of illegal substance abuse through comprehensive approaches. In this regard, UK leads the way.

Last year alone, investigators in the UK Center on Drug and Alcohol Research received $9.6 million for projects dedicated to substance abuse and addiction. Since 2010, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has awarded more than $92 million to UK research projects. UK HealthCare is proud to support the summit through sponsorship.

“UK is uniquely positioned to confront these questions because of its multidisciplinary research endeavors, leading academic medical center and regional referral network deployed to confront the scourge of opioids. We’re committed to working in – and with – communities to help navigate the complex nature of critical policy changes and effective healthcare implementation,” UK President Eli Capilouto said.

Kentucky’s rate of opioid overdose death remains above the national average, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting 1,273 Kentucky overdose deaths in 2015.

“The opioid epidemic is far-reaching and multifaceted, leaving a void in each family and community it scars,” Capilouto said. “Kentucky families and communities throughout Appalachia know the devastation and havoc of addiction. That’s why this question is critical to UK researchers who lead the research, healthcare and policy questions surrounding opioid abuse.”


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