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Pitt Receives $5.8 Million for Opioid Research in Appalachia

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Courtney Caprara

Wendy Zellner
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PITTSBURGH – The University of Pittsburgh Division of General Internal Medicine received a $5.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to facilitate opioid research in Appalachia, a region of the United States that has been significantly impacted by the ongoing opioid epidemic. 


In partnership with Judith Feinberg, M.D., of West Virginia University, and Sarah Kawasaki, M.D., of the Pennsylvania State University, Jane Liebschutz, M.D., chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine at Pitt, will establish the Appalachian Node of the National Institute on Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network (CTN) to conduct opioid-related research in the region over the next five years. The emphasis will be placed on reaching rural and other underserved populations.


“Historical and cultural factors have caused Appalachia to experience the negative consequences of the opioid epidemic at a disproportionally high rate, including overdoses, neonatal abstinence syndrome and death,” said Liebschutz. “Oftentimes, research does not include data from rural populations, meaning that the findings don’t always apply in the same way they would to an urban population. This grant will help to ensure that we are addressing the opioid epidemic in a way that truly helps those who are most impacted.”


As a CTN node, the team will use its funding to work with individual clinical practices throughout Appalachia to enroll patients in national studies related to opioid use and treatment. On their own, these clinics would lack the infrastructure to navigate their patients through such research, but additional support will allow them to contribute data that is critical to understanding the opioid epidemic and its impact on the Appalachian region specifically.


The team plans to propose and facilitate studies that will use existing resources in new ways, including local pharmacies, peer navigators, coaches and digital technology, with the goal of extending more advanced care into regions with limited resources. They ultimately hope to use their findings to inform local policy makers, practitioners and community members about evidence-based improvements in care for opioid use disorder. 


“In the last several years, the CTN has supported trials and research initiatives that have led to breakthroughs in substance use disorder treatment, ultimately changing clinical practice and impacting peoples’ lives for the better,” said Liebschutz. “The knowledge we obtain from this research will help not only the Appalachian region, but also people across the country.”