University of Kentucky, Commonwealth Awarded $87 Million to Lead Effort Combating Opioid Epidemic

Researchers hope to reduce deaths and substance use disorder

Media Contact: Nicole Burton

Doug Hogan

FRANKFORT, Ky. (April 18, 2019) – Governor Matt Bevin and University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto today 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.

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.

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

Capilouto said the grant is a testament to UK’s strong partnership with the state as well the strong support of our federal delegation to help make these funds available.

“We are incredibly grateful for the support we’ve received from Gov. Bevin and his administration,” Capilouto said. “Today, we are declaring in a united voice that we can stem this devastating tide. We look forward to our continued partnership with the Governor as our efforts, together, yield a better future for the state we serve.

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,” added 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.

The complete press release from UK is available here.

Click here for more information on CAN HEAL.

View the full NIH press release here.