Indiana University unveils $50M initiative to fight opioid abuse

Indiana University has launched a five-year, $50 million research initiative to find the best clinical practices to address opioid addiction in one of the largest state-based responses to the addiction crisis.

Indiana University Health and Eskenazi Health said Tuesday that they will partner with university researchers and state public health officials to identify the opioid crisis’ scope in the state and help providers better prepare to treat those patients.

A key area of the project will look at how healthcare providers can address substance use disorder in patients who visit the emergency department. Often times hospitals hold such patients in the ED long enough to stabilize them, only to discharge them a few hours or days later when they are unable to transfer them to a treatment facility.

“This is a very complex, broad-based problem that needs a similarly comprehensive and broad-based solution,” said Dr. Lisa Harris, CEO of Eskenazi Health.

The safety-net system has spent the last decade honing its process of treating patients with substance use disorder, and it will bring the lessons learned to the program, Harris said.

Eskenazi’s practices have included integrating behavioral health specialists into primary care. That move, coupled with widespread substance abuse screening, has led to identifying 30% incidence of previously undetected depression, alcohol and substance abuse, she said.

The project will also focus on improving education, training and certification of healthcare professionals in addiction medicine.

Project lead Robin Newhouse, dean of Indiana University’s School of Nursing, said around $7 million of the funding will go toward that component of the project, which will address better opioid prescribing practices and pain relief alternatives as well as examine how clinicians screen patients for substance use disorder and conduct interventions and refer patients to treatment.

“There’s a common core we need to provide (to medical students), but there’s also a responsibility to train the workforce that’s already practicing as well,” said Newhouse.

She expects 15 to 20 faculty members will be directly involved in projects related to medical education.

Experts say that continued medical education on addiction issues is necessary to combat the opioid crisis. In a report released in July, President Donald Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis called for mandatory prescriber education initiatives on opioids and mandatory continuing medical education requirements in order for physicians to apply or renew for a license to prescribe such drugs.

The initiative’s five focus areas also include examining data, laws, policies and the science of addiction to understand how to better prevent and treat it.

Newhouse was hopeful the evidence produced from the project would serve as a model for other states to combat opioid abuse.

“We have to share broadly and we have to learn from each other,” Newhouse said.

Indiana is of several states where that have been hard hit by the effects of the opioid epidemic. The state is one of four where the rate of fatal drug overdoses has more than quadrupled since 1999, according to a 2016 report by Indiana University’s School of Public Health.