A $65.9 million grant was awarded to Ohio State for the Helping to End Addiction Long-Term initiative. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Ohio State is combatting Ohio’s opioid epidemic through research, collaboration and the help of a large federal grant.

In April, a $65.9 million grant committed to the HEAL Initiative — Helping to End Addiction Long-Term — was awarded to Ohio State. The communities-based study is funded and supported by the National Institutes of Health and will focus on 19 Ohio counties using real-time research to prevent, treat and provide recovery programs with Ohio State leading researchers from six additional Ohio universities, according to an Ohio State press release.

Since being awarded the grant in April, researchers have been collaborating to create a protocol, and the fieldwork, including surveys and data collections, has begun, Dr. Rebecca Jackson, principal investigator of the study and director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science at Ohio State, said.

The overarching goal of the initiative is to reduce overdose deaths by 40 percent over the next three years, Jackson said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ohio was second in the country in opioid-related fatalities in 2017. West Virginia had the highest rate of opioid-related fatalities in the country.

“Ohio is the epicenter for the opioid crisis that affects every state across the country,” Jackson said. “It is a disease that does not discriminate against race, ethnicity, or rural or urban communities.”

William Martin, former dean of the College of Public Health, said being a part of a university in the state with the second-highest rates of opioid-related deaths motivated the team to get involved and help out.

“We lead the nation in overdose deaths. We all knew we had to do something,” Martin said. “We should all feel privileged to have the resources we do and the opportunity to bring them to the counties.”

The counties involved in this study, which represent a wide range of urban and rural communities, include Allen, Ashtabula, Athens, Brown, Cuyahoga, Darke, Franklin, Guernsey, Greene, Hamilton, Huron, Jefferson, Lucas, Morrow, Ross, Scioto, Stark, Williams and Wyandot, according to a press release.

“In four years, we will be able to provide scientific evidence that will allow communities to deploy custom-designed programs to disseminate across all the counties,” Jackson said.

The study aims to answer the questions of how to end the opioid crisis, and how to help individuals in terms of the community they live in. The fact that this study is community-based is what makes it different from other research programs, Jackson said.

“It is community-engaged and community-driven. Communities will look at the gaps in their services and select approaches off a menu we provide that will help them reach the overarching goal,” Jackson said.

Jackson said she played a big role in acquiring the grant by bringing together a team of scientists.

“We built a team locally and then I reached out to collaborators that I have in Cincinnati and Cleveland to ask if they would like to collaborate on this with us to move forward on a statewide approach,” Jackson said.

The work of Jackson and her team was essential in the creation of the HEAL Initiative, Martin said.

“It is the commitment of the individuals and leadership of Dr. Jackson, bringing the [HEAL] Initiative together that has made it successful,” Martin said. “People have repurposed their academic careers to be involved in this.”