University of Kentucky gets $87 million to combat the opioid epidemic


LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) — The University of Kentucky has received its largest grant ever in an effort to cut opioid deaths around the state.

The University of Kentucky is one of four universities to receive part of a $350 million grant for the HEALing (Helping End Addiction Long-Term) Communities Study through the National Institutes of Health.

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The study focuses on the four states hit hardest by the deadly opioid epidemic.

With the $87 million grant, researchers with the University of Kentucky aim to cut opioid overdose deaths by 40 percent in 16 counties that represent more than a third of Kentucky’s population.

The 16 counties, considered “highly affected communities,” are: Fayette, Jessamine, Clark, Kenton, Campbell, Mason, Greenup, Carter, Boyd, Knox, Jefferson, Franklin, Boyle, Madison, Bourbon and Floyd counties.

Kentucky currently is ranked 5th in the United States for opioid overdose deaths and has suffered through the opioid epidemic since its inception.

Sharon Walsh, Ph.D., director of UK’s Center on Drug and Alcohol Research, is the principal investigator of the Kentucky 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. “‘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?’ We know that people face real barriers accessing treatment and staying in treatment. We would like to remove those barriers because we also know that being out of treatment is a risk for death.”

Boston Medical Center, New York City’s Columbia University and Ohio State University are the other study sites.