By: Jessica Wehrman, Columbus Dispatch
WASHINGTON — Call it a “moon shot” aimed at damping down the opioid crisis.
A consortium of Ohio colleges and communities led by Ohio State University is undertaking a sweeping effort to study how best to reduce opioid deaths in the state.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on Thursday that Ohio will play a role in a four–year, $350 million study that aims to reduce opioid deaths by 40 percent over three years, with the first year being devoted to ramping up the program.
Ohio State and its partners will receive a $65.9 million federal research grant for part of the project, with the first installment totaling $13 million.
Kentucky, New York and Massachusetts will also receive federal grants through what the federal government calls the HEALing Communities Study. RTI International, based in North Carolina, will serve as the study’s overall coordinating center, responsible for data analysis, health economics research and dissemination of research findings.
A dozen states had initially applied for the grant.
By selecting Ohio, the Trump administration picked an epicenter in the epidemic. In 2017, 4,293 Ohioans died from opioid-related overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only West Virginia had a higher rate of deaths per 100,000 people.
Ohio State will lead a consortium in the state that will use real-time research to target prevention, treatment and recovery programs, determining which elements work best in the communities being studied.
The Ohio study will focus on 19 Ohio counties: Allen, Ashtabula, Athens, Brown, Cuyahoga, Darke, Franklin, Guernsey, Greene, Hamilton, Huron, Jefferson, Lucas, Morrow, Ross, Scioto, Stark, Williams and Wyandot.
The Ohio consortium will bring together experts from six universities — Ohio State, Cincinnati, Case Western Reserve, Ohio, Toledo and Wright State — as well as leaders from state agencies, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and other community organizations. Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration is also participating.
In a statement, DeWine said the study will allow Ohio to “expand its efforts to address the substance use crisis that is taking a toll on families across the state in a comprehensive, collaborative way.” His administration in January launched the RecoveryOhio initiative that aims to improve prevention, treatment and recovery support efforts that address mental health and substance use.
“This is a really historic study,” said Ohio State President Michael V. Drake, who attended the HHS ceremony announcing the grants. He said the idea is to “use the best knowledge we have in treating the epidemic in a comprehensive fashion” and pass on that knowledge to other communities.
Communities, he said, “will serve as living laboratories in a way to find answers to the problems that plague them.” Ohio State will serve as the central resource in the state for that knowledge, Drake said.
Rebecca Jackson, director of Ohio State’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science, associate dean for clinical research in the College of Medicine and lead investigator for the project, said the study will “empower communities with information and sharing expertise on evidence–based interventions.”
She said many communities involved have already begun gathering information on what works. That knowledge, she said, can be applied as the study proceeds.
“This is really groundbreaking in so many ways,” Jackson said.
The study is funded and supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Sen. Rob Portman, R–Ohio, called the announcement “great news for Ohio.”
“I know it will make a real difference in our state,” Portman said.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D–Ohio, said the funding “will provide a critical investment in the groundbreaking research” happening at OSU and at other institutions around the state.
“This is exactly what a flagship research facility like Ohio State should be doing,” said Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington, adding, “I believe this study can make a real difference in the fight against opiates in Ohio.”