UK Researchers, Clinicians Tackling Drug Addiction Make Their Case to Federal Leaders
Kentucky is among the states most ravaged by opioid abuse and drug addiction.
But the University of Kentucky — with researchers and clinicians working across a number of colleges and disciplines — is on the front lines of finding solutions.
Leaders from UK Research and UK HealthCare — along with some of the institution’s most prolific researchers — took their stories of hope and challenge to Washington, D.C., recently to make the case with some of the country’s top elected officials about the need to continue federal funding to address drug addiction and abuse.
“The scourge of opioid abuse and addiction is wreaking havoc on Kentucky. Addiction is a disease of despair, victimizing individuals and communities when they are most vulnerable. It does not discriminate by ZIP code or neighborhood; race or ethnicity — it affects us all,” said UK President Eli Capilouto, who led the delegation to Washington. “Universities across the country are locked in a fight against opioid abuse. The University of Kentucky is among the leaders, working in partnership with local, state and federal stakeholders to stem the tide of this insidious menace.”
A group of UK representatives — including Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Mark Newman, College of Medicine Dean Bob DiPaola, Vice President for Research Lisa Cassis and Vice President for University Relations Tom Harris — joined Capilouto in meetings with top elected officials in the country over the course of three days recently. Officials included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul as well as U.S. Reps. Hal Rogers, Andy Barr, Brett Guthrie, Thomas Massie, Jamie Comer and John Yarmuth.
A second team of UK representatives, led by UK’s Vice President for Administration and External Affairs Mark D. Birdwhistell, included faculty from six different colleges who are engaged in substance abuse and addiction research. The university currently has $22.5 million in research funding around these issues as part of UK’s $330 million research enterprise. UK, in fact, received $11.2 million in research funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) last year alone.
“The breadth of ongoing research in substance abuse by our faculty led to vibrant discussions with congressional staff," Cassis said. "Everyone had the same goal, and all agreed that support for substance research is critical.”
UK’s opioid-focused research team in Washington included:
- Carrie Oser, a sociology professor examining health service utilization, drug treatment outcomes, and infectious disease prevention among rural residents and minorities.
- Donald Helme, an associate professor in the Department of Communication who focuses on media and school-based campaigns designed to prevent risky behaviors.
- Alison Davis, an agricultural economics extension professor who has facilitated a local substance abuse coalition in Russell County, Kentucky, which is adopting strategies and policies to reduce substance abuse.
- Mark Fillmore, a professor of psychology focusing research on acute and chronic effects of abused drugs on mental capacity.
- Kristin Ashford, an associate professor of nursing and co-creator of the Perinatal Assistance and Treatment Home (PATHways), which is helping pregnant women who use opioids. Since the program launched in 2014, more than 150 women have received treatment through PATHways; of those, 77 percent who were admitted to labor and delivery tested negative for illicit drug use.
- Jeffrey Talbert, a professor in pharmacy who focuses his research on the intersection of policy decisions and health outcomes.
- April Young, an assistant professor of public health who works with the UK Center on Drug and Alcohol Research and is helping lead a $1.16 million cooperative research effort to build community-grounded health responses to combat opioid abuse in Appalachia.
“Their work is making a difference,” Birdwhistell said. “But they will be the first to tell you that progress is not possible without the support they receive from our lawmakers and federal funding for their research efforts. Together, we can turn the tide, if we remain focused.”