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NIH Grant Funds Research Into New Approaches to Tackle Opioid Epidemic


Utah is not immune to the opioid epidemic that is ravaging the country. The state has witnesses more than 450 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2017, a rate higher than the national average (15.5 compared to 14.6 deaths per 100,000 people). A multi-disciplinary team of researchers at University of Utah Health received a grant from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network to develop and test interventions for opioid use disorder and prevent overdose. The $3.8 million grant will be distributed over five years. 

“Addiction is like diabetes. A diabetic patient will always have a problem with sugar. It is the same with addiction,” said Adam Gordon, MD, MPH, professor of internal medicine at U of U Health and lead investigator on the grant. “We have to get out of the mindset that treatment is episodic.”

The grant will allow U of U Health to create the Greater Intermountain Node (GIN) to bring together expertise across the campus, including ethics, law, pharmacy, social work, obstetrics and gynecology and psychiatry, to focus on addiction work. The research team will conduct studies of addiction in non-addiction specialty care settings, like primary care facilities and emergency rooms. 

“The primary care physician may be a key point-of-contact for these problems and there is no stigma to see this provider for care,” said Gordon. “Sometimes you [need] medication to help get the patient stabilized.”

The grant will also allow the team to dive into large databases to understand how to improve addiction care. Finally, the team will put research into practice through implementation of evidence-based science.

The GIN node is one of five newly established nodes, expanding the network to 18. GIN is housed within the Program of Addiction Research, Clinical Care, Knowledge, and Advocacy (PARCKA), which provides an interdisciplinary and interprofessional approach to addiction-related clinical care, advocacy, research and education across the university, the local community, the state and the nation.

“We are a hotspot for the opioid epidemic in the Intermountain West,” Gordon said. “Our major goal is to improve access and quality of addiction care for the region by bringing science to a vulnerable population to understand opioid overdoses and new addiction trends in the region.”

Researchers interested in applying through the Greater Intermountain Node should review the how to apply information and contact PARCKA staff with any questions.

“The Greater Intermountain Node represents a major investment in working to solve the overdose and opioid crisis in the United States,” said Jerry Cochran, Ph.D., director of research for PARCKA. “Funded by the NIH Healing Initiative, the research that will be accomplished will make a major impact in protecting lives and promoting recovery.”

The research group will hold a monthly discussion series, called GIN on the Rocks, on the first Tuesday of each month at noon in the seminar room of 383 Colorow Way.


Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institutes of Health under Award Number 1UG1DA049444-01. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.