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College of Nursing Initiative Strives to Diminish Opioid Abuse in Rural Utah

Opioid Epidemic
The University of Utah College of Nursing is leading a consortium of seven health care institutions and agencies striving to improve prevention and treatment of opioid addiction in rural Utah. Photo credit: Getty Images

In any given week, opioids are responsible for eight out of ten adult drug overdose deaths in Utah. Many of these deaths occur in the state’s most sparsely populated counties.

To help address this problem, the University of Utah College of Nursing is partnering with the U of U School of Medicine to lead a consortium of seven health care institutions and agencies striving to improve prevention and treatment of opioid addiction in rural Utah.

The four-year, $2 million effort is supported by a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The initiative, called the Utah Opioid Healthcare Consortium––Collaborative Care Model (UROHC-CCM), will focus on reducing opioid usage and dependence in Carbon, Emery, and Wayne Counties, three sparsely populated areas in east-central Utah that have some of the highest rates of opioid-related deaths in the state.

These counties were selected because they have rates of opioid-related deaths that are 2.5 times higher than elsewhere in Utah and twice as high as the United States.

Linda Edelman
Linda Edelman, Ph.D., M.Phil., a University of Utah Health professor of Nursing and project director of Utah Opioid Healthcare Consortium--Collabortive Care Model (UROH). Photo Credit: Charlie Ehlert.

“Opioid abuse has been a problem of epidemic proportions across the U.S. for many years, and Utah has not been immune from that,” says Linda Edelman, Ph.D., M.Phil., R.N., who is the UROHC-CCM project director and a professor of nursing at U of U Health. “Rural counties in Utah have been disproportionately struck by the issue, in part because of the availability of opioids, unemployment, poverty, and the lack of health care professionals and facilities capable of addressing this problem.”

Carbon, Emery, and Wayne Counties have only 14 health centers and clinics that offer varying levels of behavioral health and substance abuse care. These facilities are scattered across about 14,000 square miles, an area roughly the size of New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut combined. As a result, individuals seeking care for opioid dependence often must travel an hour or more to receive counseling or treatment.

To help address this gap in care, the Consortium plans to support the education and training of collaborative care teams to deliver office-based addiction treatment at six of the region’s family practice clinics. These teams, working in consultation with addiction recovery specialists at U of U Health, will deliver outpatient addiction treatment and serve as the primary contact for each patient. 

Doctors, nurses, social workers, behavioral health therapists, and other members of the health care team will receive online training and participate in webinars that will help them implement strategies that promote reductions in opioid dependence.

Other clinics in the three-county region will have the opportunity to participate, but they will receive less intense one-on-one support from the Consortium, Edelman says.

“The whole idea behind the health care teams is that if we have dedicated providers available nearby, it makes it easier for patients who are suffering from a substance abuse disorder to seek out treatment,” Edelman says.

In addition, the Consortium will provide mental health first aid training to emergency responders, teachers, families, and concerned citizens. The training teaches them ways to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone in crisis who may be developing a mental health or substance abuse problem.

Consortium providers will offer access to the Strengthening Families program, an evidence-based family skills training program for high-risk families that promotes family bonding, positive communication, healthy friendships, and other useful behavioral tools. Together, these skills can lower the risk of substance abuse in later life, Edelman says.

The Consortium will also host an annual summit for medical, nursing, pharmacy and other health care students that will offer training in substance abuse recognition and treatment in rural settings.

“We hope that this training will increase interest and awareness about rural substance use disorder and interest in working in rural communities,” Edelman says.  “And, as a result, improve access to treatment for the people living there.”


In addition to the University of Utah College of Nursing and U of U School of Medicine, institutions participating in the Utah Rural Opioid Heath Care Consortium ––Collaborative Care Model (UROHC-CMM) include the Utah Center for Rural Health/Southern Utah AHEC (UCRH/SUAHEC), Utah State University Extension, Association of Utah Community Health (AUCH), Wayne Community Health Center, Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness (USARA), and Eastern Utah Women’s Health.