UK Receives $87M grant to reduce opioid overdoses in Kentucky

September 6, 2019

The University of Kentucky’s Center on Drug and Alcohol Research was awarded a four-year, $87 million grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) earlier this summer to study and make recommendations to reduce opioid overdose deaths in 16 counties across northern and eastern Kentucky.

The $87 grant is the largest grant ever awarded to the University of Kentucky.

Working alongside the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, UK’s Center on Drug and Alcohol Research will lead the research project as part of the NIH’s HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-Term) Initiative, an effort that goes across different government agencies to find scientific solutions to counteract the national opioid crisis.

The HEALing Communities study aims to reduce opioid overdose deaths by 40 percent over a three-year period in these select communities by testing a set of proven prevention and treatment interventions, such as increasing the number of individuals receiving medication-based treatment for their opioid use disorder, increase treatment retention, provide recovery support services, and expand the distribution of naloxone, a medication used to reverse opioid overdose.

“As communities across America continue to suffer from the opioid crisis, a comprehensive approach is needed to help end addiction long-term,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “The [study] will seek to reduce dramatically the number of overdose deaths in those communities, and to create a model for helping communities nationwide.”

More than $350 million will support the multi-year study, under a cooperative agreement supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is part of the NIH, and in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The HEAL Initiative selected research sites in four states that have been hit particularly hard by the opioid crisis, the other three being Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York.

UK grant and opioids

What This Means for Kentucky

The Commonwealth counties selected for the proposed opioid overdose reduction, which are characterized by the NIH as either “Rural” or “Urban,” include:

  • Bourbon (Rural)
  • Boyle (Rural)
  • Carter (Rural)
  • Floyd (Rural)
  • Greenup (Rural)
  • Knox (Rural)
  • Madison (Rural)
  • Mason (Rural)
  • Boyd (Urban)
  • Campbell (Urban)
  • Clark (Urban)
  • Fayette (Urban)
  • Franklin (Urban)
  • Jefferson (Urban)
  • Jessamine (Urban)
  • Kenton (Urban)

Combined, the 16 rural and metropolitan counties had 764 opioid overdose deaths in 2017, with two-thirds of them involving fentanyl, officials with the University of Kentucky said.

While these counties may not be the worst hit counties in the Commonwealth, they each meet certain criteria, which included having a jail, seeing at least 25 opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 population, having a needle exchange program, and one or more providers who offer Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), such as buprenorphine, for opioid addiction. Also, the 16 counties represent roughly 40 percent of the state’s overall population of more than 4 million.

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