Alabama Researching Opioid Prevention, Recovery Networks

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By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Harrison Holland

A University of Alabama-led research team plans to implement opioid prevention, treatment and recovery networks across the state.

The Health Resources and Services Administration awarded UA researchers $1 million for the Greater Rural Opioid Wellness in Alabama Project. According to a university statement, GROW aims to connect networks of healthcare providers, emergency services and community members in order to serve rural Alabama areas affected by opioid use.

Targeted areas will be Franklin, Marion, Winston, Lamar and Fayette counties, as HRSA deemed them “high-risk” areas according to UA researchers and GROW contributors Dr. Hee Yun Lee and Dr. Josh Eyer. Early phases of the three-year project began last year.

Alabama had the highest opioid prescribing rate in the country in 2018, according to drugabuse.gov. Current rates have declined, but remain nearly twice that of the national average. This is a state-wide crisis GROW will look to address.

The project got tougher when COVID-19 hit, as opioid-related emergency room visits in Alabama increased by 81% from January to July. According to associate director of UA’s Institute of Business Analytics and co-investigator of GROW Dr. Matthew Hudnall, the virus is “particularly devastating” for those who suffer from opioid use disorders.

UA’s 12-member research team knows the communities well, as surveys and data have been collected through interviews and focus groups. And their efforts will gear towards solving, or at least slowing the crisis in Alabama.

“Currently, there’s no ongoing education about how to work with opioid-addicted people,” Lee said.

She and fellow researchers learned that healthcare professionals want peer recovery specialist education to help those who struggle with opioids cope with stigmas and stresses associated with addiction and treatment. That would include counseling and support systems among other methods that could be emergency-related, according to Lee.

Peer recovery specialists could include community participants like teachers, pastors and even librarians.

“If they’re well-known and reachable by community members, we’ll train them, and we’ll work with them to create space for opioid-related resource centers and will train them as a paraprofessional for opioid crisis intervention,” Lee said.

UA’s research team has the objective to serve the community and help the lives of Alabama residents, while furthering necessary education about opioids.

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