West Virginians may gain better access to investigational approaches to managing and preventing substance abuse disorders related to the ongoing opioid epidemic as part of a collaborative $5.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.  

In partnership with Jane Liebschutz, M.D., chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine at UPMC, and Sarah Kawasaki, M.D., of the Pennsylvania State University, Judith Feinberg, M.D. of West Virginia University’s Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry and the Department of Neuroscience, will establish the Appalachian Node of the National Institute on Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network to conduct substance use-related research in the region over the next five years. The emphasis will be placed on reaching rural and other underserved populations.

As a Clinical Trials Network Node, the team will use its funding to work with individual clinical practices throughout West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania to enroll patients in national studies related to drug use and treatment. On their own, these clinics would lack the infrastructure to conduct such research, but support from this grant will allow them to contribute data that is critical to understanding the opioid epidemic and its impact on central Appalachia.

Additional WVU School of Medicine team members include Laura Lander, M.S.W., associate professor and Social Work section chief; Robin Pollini, Ph.D., associate professor; and Erin Winstanley, Ph.D., associate professor.

 “Through this grant, West Virginia will provide host sites to study treatment for opioid use disorder in front-line settings such as emergency departments and to study a collaborative model to prevent opioid misuse from becoming opioid addiction,” Dr. Feinberg said. “Our researchers will also propose new studies for implementation in this national Clinical Trials Network.”

The Appalachian Node team plans to propose and facilitate studies that will use existing resources in new ways, including local pharmacists, peer recovery coaches, and digital technology, with the goal of extending more advanced care into areas with limited resources. They ultimately hope to use their findings to inform state policymakers, local practitioners, and community members about evidence-based improvements in care for opioid use disorder.

“Historical and cultural factors have caused Appalachia to experience the negative consequences of the opioid epidemic at a disproportionally high rate, including overdoses, neonatal abstinence syndrome and death,” said Liebschutz. “Often times, research does not include data from rural populations, meaning that the findings don’t always apply in the same way they would to an urban population. This grant will help to ensure that we are addressing the opioid epidemic in a way that truly helps those who are most impacted.”

Originally from WVU School of Medicine News.