Fighting the Scourge of Opioid Abuse, Fostering a Healthier Future for Kentucky

This week, University of Kentucky physicians, researchers and leaders working to find solutions in the fight against prescription drug abuse are in Atlanta for the 2018 National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit.

The Summit is the largest collaboration of federal, state and local professionals in the country for leaders who are seeking solutions in the fight against prescription drug abuse. It includes more than 2,500 researchers, advocates, policymakers and law enforcement officials.

Addiction, like any cancer of the body or society, can afflict anyone. It knows no gender or race, background or biology. If someone does not personally struggle with addiction, they probably know someone who does.

Kentucky ranks third in the United States in overdose deaths, and families residing in Kentucky’s rural communities are disproportionately impacted by the opioid crisis.

At the University of Kentucky, we are developing and implementing a widespread and intensive approach to complex health questions through research, translational care and clinical delivery.

You can learn more about that work here.

Many of our faculty are sharing their research as part of a growing collaborative. Among UK’s cadre of experts, renowned researchers and health care practitioners are:

  • Lisa Cassis, PhD - Vice President of Research, Professor of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences, Co-Director, Division of Nutritional Sciences
  • Mark D. Birdwhistell, MPA - Vice President for Administration & External Affairs, UK HealthCare
  • Sharon Walsh, PhD – Director of Center on Drug & Alcohol Research, University of Kentucky
  • Holly Dye, MRC – Beyond Birth Program Director, University of Kentucky HealthCare
  • Laura Fanucchi, MD, MPH – Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of Kentucky
  • Seth Himelhoch, MD, MPH – Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Kentucky College of Medicine
  • Nancy Jennings, BSN, RN – Beyond Birth Nurse Navigator, University of Kentucky HealthCare
  • Michael Kindred, MD – Beyond Birth Medical Director, Surgeon and Addiction Medicine, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Kentucky College of Medicine
  • Alice Thornton, MD – Professor of Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Medical Director, Bluegrass Care Clinic, University of Kentucky College of Medicine

Much of our work is made possible by the support we receive from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Federal research funding supports the most critical developments in biomedical science.

In Kentucky, the NIH is helping UK confront cancers like lung, colorectal, cervical, kidney and leukemia, as well as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. All of these afflict Kentuckians at the highest rates in the nation.

That funding, in turn, supports the work of our faculty who are in Atlanta sharing what we’ve learned through programs like UK’s PATHways Prenatal and Beyond Birth Clinic and UK’s Bluegrass Care Clinic:

  • Between 2000 and 2016, the number of Kentucky babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome soared from 19 to 1,172.
  • Through UK’s PATHways Prenatal and Beyond Birth clinic, UK HealthCare and our hospitals and clinics use family-centered care to treat opioid use disorder as a chronic illness affecting pregnant women and their families during the perinatal period.
  • The Bluegrass Care Clinic provides a continuum of high quality, state-of-the-art, multi-disciplinary HIV primary care in a compassionate, culturally sensitive manner.
  • Since 1990, the UK Division of Infectious Diseases has provided a continuum of HIV primary care, from diagnosis to end of life to more than 1,300 persons from Central and Eastern Kentucky.

This activity defines our role as a University for Kentucky. We are working in partnership with community stakeholders, health care providers and lawmakers.

The leadership of Congressman Hal Rogers has been instrumental in our effort to combat the opioid epidemic, and we are grateful for the bridges he’s helped build between our faculty, staff and clinical experts, as well as key stakeholders at agencies like NIH and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Together, with a broad and deep commitment to Kentucky, defined by high-touch and high-tech research and clinical care, we can foster a healthier and more promising future for the Commonwealth.