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Kenton, Campbell Counties Target of Grant Funds to Reduce OD Deaths

Kenton and Campbell counties are among sixteen in Kentucky set to benefit from an $87 million program to combat opioid use.

Researchers from the University of Kentucky’s Center on Drug and Alcohol Research (CDAR), in partnership with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) and the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet (JPSC), will lead the Kentucky CAN HEAL (Communities and Networks Helping End Addiction Long-term) project. This four-year study that comes with more than $87 million in funding has an ambitious but profoundly important goal: reducing opioid overdose deaths by 40 percent in 16 counties that represent more than one-third of Kentucky’s population.

Governor Matt Bevin and University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto joined U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar in Washington D.C. to announce a major grant award to combat the opioid epidemic.

“The opioid epidemic is one of the most perilous and persistent challenges impacting our state and nation,” said 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.”

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.

“Kentuckians know the insidiousness of this disease better than most,” said Capilouto. “The opioid epidemic does not discriminate by zip code, race, income, or any other demographic characteristic. 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. We are all its victims. 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.”

Earlier this year, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) contacted National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. on behalf of UK in support of the federal grant, a news release from the senator's office said. In addition, just last week, Senator McConnell discussed the importance of the grant with U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar in his office in the U.S. Capitol, the senator's office said.

During the meeting, Senator McConnell highlighted the critical medical research priorities at UK and the impact this grant will have on the Commonwealth’s efforts to combat opioid addiction.

“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 Senator McConnell. “I was pleased to work with University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto, Dr. Sharon Walsh, Director of the Center for Drug and Alcohol Research (CDAR), faculty and staff to help secure the largest federal grant in school history to help reduce opioid overdose deaths in the Commonwealth. Dr. Capilouto’s commendable leadership and commitment to addressing the substance abuse crisis in our state is making a lasting, positive impact that will help save lives. As Senate Majority Leader, I continue to work closely with Secretary Azar and Director 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.”

Sixteen counties will be included in the randomized CAN HEAL study. They include  Fayette, Jessamine, Clark, Kenton, Campbell, Mason, Greenup, Carter, Boyd, Knox, Jefferson, Franklin, Boyle, Madison, Bourbon and Floyd counties.

“This is an historic day. It’s empowering to have additional resources to continue the partnership with UK, the federal government and our partner state agencies,” said Adam Meier, Secretary, Cabinet for Health and Family Services. “This project will allow us to build out an even better array of services for individuals, their families, and communities so we can study, very scientifically, what works and what doesn’t as we get a handle on this epidemic.”

Researchers will work closely with community coalition partners to ensure a community-centered approach and to maximize local engagement. In addition, a comprehensive health communication strategy will be used to reach the public, reduce stigma and increase awareness of -- and access to -- interventions made available through the program.

“Kentucky has long been a national leader in drug policy by piloting innovations to increase the effectiveness and availability of treatment, pioneering first-of-its kind programs and partnering criminal justice with public health,” said Kentucky Justice Secretary John Tilley. “However, this grant is a game-changer in many ways, providing the resources to mount an all-fronts attack across multiple disciplines to reduce overdoses and save lives.”

The Justice Cabinet houses the Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP).

Sharon Walsh, Ph.D., director of UK's Center on Drug and Alcohol Research (CDAR), is the principal investigator (PI) of the study and will lead a team of more than 200 researchers, staff, and state and community partners involved in the project.

"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," Walsh said. She further noted how it is imperative that this grant enables us to study the efficacy of the interventions, determine what works and what does not, as well as what barriers exist to accessing those interventions.

The NIH's HEAL Initiative (Helping to End Addiction Long-Term) was launched in April 2018 and aims to speed scientific solutions to stem the national opioid public health crisis. Kentucky and UK represent one of only four study sites across the United States selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for this groundbreaking effort.

-Staff report

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