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How Colleges are Fighting the Addiction Crisis

August 21, 2019

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Talk about addiction and the conversation tends to focus on reaching people who’re misusing drugs, on getting them in treatment, or supporting their recovery. Each component is important. But other efforts are actively going on behind the scenes. It is essential to understanding what works, in which setting and for whom. You don’t hear much about it. Yet it’s playing a significant role in combating the problem.

It’s research.

The Addictions Grand Challenge at Indiana University is the largest and most comprehensive, university-led response to the opioid addiction crisis. IU has dedicated $50 million to projects focused on improving the quality of life for the people of Indiana, easing the burden of addiction on Hoosier communities and improving health and economic outcomes. 

“By making more strategic use of resources, focusing on critical issues facing the state, and working closely with key partners, we hope to achieve a greater impact in Indiana and around the world,” says Fred Cate, IU’s Vice President for Research.

Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge initiative was launched in 2017 and is one of three grand challenges at IU. (Precision Health and environmental change are also part of the Grand Challenges program).

“The Grand Challenge’s goals are clearly defined and aligned with Governor Holcomb’s state goals,” according to Robin Newhouse, Dean and Distinguished Professor at the IU School of Nursing and Primary Investigator of the Responding to the Addictions Grand Challenge. “They are to reduce the incidence of substance use disorders, reduce the number of Hoosiers dying from drug overdoses and to reduce the number of babies born with prenatal exposure to harmful substances.”

That’s a tall order. It’s being tackled through a series of targeted research areas. The action plan includes:

  • Gathering ground-level data to provide community leaders, health professionals and policymakers a clear picture of what’s driving this epidemic and where it’s headed.
  • Equipping current and future health care professionals with the skills and tools needed to prevent and treat substance use disorder.
  • Generating results that uncover the interwoven biological, psychological, social and environmental forces driving substance misuse and test interventions to prevent, treat and build resilience for recovery.
  • Creating and implementing innovative approaches to treating substance use with partners, lessening its devastating consequences.

Within those areas of research, 31 different projects are underway and range from lab-based neurobiological research to school-based educational programs designed to enhance prevention and recovery among adolescents to analysis of policy and law to data gathering to the training and education of the addictions treatment workforce.

“The Grand Challenge sets a pace for research activity understanding that lives and health are at risk,” Newhouse says. “It’s purposefully synchronous with and inclusive of multiple partners including state and local government as well as business and nonprofit leaders to advance strategies that are helping the countless individuals, families, employees and businesses suffering as a result of the addiction crisis.” 

Indiana University’s Addiction Grand Challenge was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.

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Mark Powell

J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert. Read more about Mark Powell.