Universities in Ohio Doing Their Part to Combat Opioid Problem

Ohio colleges contribute to the state’s comprehensive efforts to address opioid abuse nationally.

For more than two decades, deaths by drug overdose have risen year over year in the United States. Today, more than six out of ten of the roughly 64,000 deaths by overdose annually involved opioids, up 22 percent from last year.

The nation is facing an epidemic, and Ohio is not standing idly by.

Ohio is leading the charge to address the country’s opioid problem, spending $1 billion annually towards efforts related to prevention, education, treatment and recovery, and law enforcement. In the ongoing Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge led by Ohio Third Frontier, the state took an innovative approach to combating the epidemic by crowdsourcing ideas from anybody—healthcare experts, teachers, scientists or merely concerned citizens—in order to save lives.

The state is not alone in its search for answers. Universities across Ohio have joined the fight, bringing with them a unique blend of expertise across faculty, students and staff committed to searching for new solutions. Two such universities are Ohio University (OU) in Athens and The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus.

“The opioid epidemic has many layers beyond the obvious medical and public-health concerns—issues involving employment, public policy, education, mental health, family and child welfare, population trends, drug marketing and prescription practices,” said Dr. Bruce McPheron, Executive Vice President & Provost at Ohio State. “Unpacking the problem requires a holistic approach that considers all dimensions; the breadth of expertise among our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and partners uniquely equips us to do this.”

To help drive this holistic approach forward, Ohio State established the Opioid Innovation Fund in late 2017, a program modeled after the success of a similar initiative by OSU to address Toledo’s toxic algae bloom of 2014. The Opioid Innovation Fund made more than $1 million in grants available to teams offering innovative approaches to prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery. The eight award-winning submissions looked to use a wide-range of technologies in different ways. Among the winners was a project to develop a mapping system that identifies hotspots of opioid activity, and a proposal to use virtual reality games in place of opioids for burn patients while their dressing is changed.

Also hard at work to address the devastating effects of the opioid problem is Ohio University in southeast Ohio, situated right in the heart of some of Ohio’s most impacted communities. In addition to submitting a team-driven idea to the Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge, OU launched Athens HOPE in 2017, a task force embedded in the community and committed to fighting the opioid epidemic through prevention and education programming. HOPE brings together local leaders and experts to educate families about the facts surrounding opioid abuse, reduce stigma, provide community activities that support those in recovery, and provide education about emerging trends and best practices to frontline professionals.

For Dr. Randy Leite, Dean of OU’s College of Health Sciences and Professions, this program is of utmost importance to not only the university, but the region as a whole.

“We struggle with opioid abuse among our students, in our workforce and in providing sufficient support to those who come to us in recovery,” said Leite. “At Ohio University, we are highly committed to the vitality of our region and its citizens. Universities play a critical role in addressing this problem as they include considerable educational and research resources that may be brought to bear.”

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