Universities and Research Institutions Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

As opioid overdose cases rise, the United States continues to battle an ongoing opioid epidemic. Many organizations and institutions have joined the fight against Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) and related opioid difficulties. From law enforcement to medical doctors, there are people around the world who have one mission: to save lives by preventing opioid overdoses and addiction.

Opioid research timeline

Timeline of universities using their research to counter the opioid epidemic through advanced research. 

Opioid research institutions

List of universities engaged in opioid research

Among the most prominent organizations battling the opioid epidemic are research universities and colleges. These post-secondary institutions are uniquely positioned to help fight the opioid epidemic in two major ways:

  1. Providing excellent health science education to their students.
  2. Studying and researching various diseases, including opioid addiction.

Research institutions have immense power to slow or even revert the opioid crisis. The following list contains many of the top universities engaged in the study and research of opioid dependency.  

Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University, located just north of Houston, has been a lead researcher in the field of opioid addiction and dependence. Most notably, the university has been studying neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome. It is occurring when newborn babies are born dependent to opioids due to their mothers’ usage during pregnancy. Babies born dependent on opioids may face opioid withdrawal symptoms called neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS). This may lead to seizures and other significant health complications in babies. Texas A&M has been leading the way in research of newborn babies addicted to opioids, and helping doctors identify which infants are most likely to be born with opioid disorders.

Institution:
Texas A&M
More Information: Diagnosing the tiniest victims of the opioid epidemic

Brandeis University

Brandeis University is a private research university located in the Boston suburb of Waltham, Massachusetts. The university has been combating the opioid epidemic from an education-prevention standpoint, with new efforts to fight the opioid epidemic that is focused on responsible prescribing. Researching prescribing behaviors of physicians after education seminars on opioid information and risk of addiction has led the university to help doctors prescribe opioids in a more responsible and safe manner. The opioid education programs have increased the use of the state prescription monitoring program (PMP), which tracks patient prescription history information. During the visit, a trained pharmacist taught the physician how to use the PMP and promoted key messages about safer opioid prescribing. Brandeis University takes pride in conducting research that addresses the importance of responsible prescribing and partnering with physicians.

Institution: 
Brandeis University
More Information: Physicians report safer opioid prescribing behavior after just one in-office education session, study shows

Emory University

Emory University is a private research university in Atlanta, Georgia. Emory University is taking a unique approach to combating the opioid epidemic. They are taking an active part in educating the public about pain management alternatives that are safer and often better then opioid-based medications. A few of these alternatives include massage therapy, acupuncture, spinal cord & nerve stimulation, and many more. Their aim is to showcase non-pharmacological options of treating pain and as a result reducing the number of opioid related overdoses and deaths. By integrating these pain control substitutes, doctors have more options to offer pain patients, without the serious side effects or risks of overdose and abuse.

Institution:
Emory University
More Information: Emory Pain Center focuses on pain relief alternatives instead of medication

Iowa State University

Iowa State University of Science and Technology is a public land-grant research university in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State University research team has been focusing their efforts on studying opioid overdose deaths in rural communities. Unfortunately, those communities have far more overdose deaths than urban regions. The 5-year study began in 2018 and its results will focus on rural communities. It will look at differences in not only the geographics but also economic factors. Especially the loss of jobs and economic decline’s impact on opioid use. The scientist’s objective is to recognize prevention tactics and use extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations to foresee which regions may be at risk. If the study is successful, rural regions will be able to utilize this data to identify the threats and take appropriate action.

Institution:
Iowa State University
More Information: Predicting, Preventing Spread Of Opioid Epidemic In Rural And Micropolitan Areas

Stanford University

Stanford University is a private research university located in Stanford, California. Stanford University School of Medicine has also been leading the way in determining how pain patients can reduce their likelihood of using opioids after being admitted to outpatient and emergency rooms for pain. In a joint study with Duke University School of Medicine researchers were able to conclude that starting physical therapy within three months of a musculoskeletal pain diagnosis reduced patients’ opioid use by about 10 percent. From this we can learn and progress on developing protocols to ensure all options are exhausted before resorting to prescribing opioids, since opioids generally are not a long-term solution.

Institution:
Stanford University
More Information: Early physical therapy can reduce risk, amount of long-term opioid use

University of Arizona

The University of Arizona is a public research university in Tucson, Arizona. They are playing a major role in fighting the opioid epidemic, by researching new ways to treat pain, without the use of opioid based medications. Researchers at the UA College of Medicine have developed a new class of non-opioid compounds to treat pain. Testing has shown this new compound to be more efficacious than morphine, but at the same time it is non-addictive like morphine. The development of these future medicines to treat chronic pain patients has great potential to reduce opioid addiction and related overdose deaths. Chronic pain is a widespread condition, effecting billions of adults around the world, and opioid misuse and overdose continues to plague communities across the US. The university acknowledges that while opioids are unlikely to disappear, their mission is to equip physicians with opioid substitutes to combat the opioid epidemic.

Institution:
University of Arizona
More Information: Startup Regulonix Licenses UA Non-Opioid Pain Drug Candidates

University of Colorado Boulder

The University of Colorado Boulder is a public research university in Boulder, Colorado. Researchers at this University of Colorado have been studying the effectiveness of opioid medications, particularly for long-term use. According to a new study by CU Boulder, medicating animals with opioids after surgery extended pain for over three weeks. It also, makes specialized immune cells in the spinal cord to become more sensitive to pain. The researchers proved that usage of opioid drugs to treat pain, could aggravate and lengthen pain for months in animals. Studying chronic and long-term pain management is of great importance in combatting the opioid epidemic, since more than 50 million U.S. adults experience chronic pain. By researching safer, more effective ways to prescribe and use opioid medications, doctors can not only understand how to better benefit their patients individual pain needs, but also reduce their risk of addiction to the opioid medications, and ultimately resulting in less opioid overdose deaths.

Institution:
University of Colorado Boulder
More Information: Opioids after surgery can, paradoxically, prolong pain

University of Washington

The University of Washington is a public research university in Seattle, Washington, United States. Researchers at the UW are among the top pioneers in combating the opioid epidemic, including the use of new technology in prevent overdose deaths. Among those new advancements is the development of a new cellphone application, called Second Chance. This app uses sonar to check the breathing rate and detect when the user has overdosed. The app accurately detects overdose-related symptoms about 90% of the time. The goal of the app is to allow a patient experiencing an overdose to be contacted with a friend or 911 to provide overdose reversal medication, Naloxone. This development has the potential to save thousands of lives. As the development of these new technologies continues to evolve, we now have hope that the combination of medical scientific advancements with the help of modern computers and information technology can benefit society as a whole and prevent tragedy before it happens.

Institution:
University of Washington
More Information: First smartphone app to detect opioid overdose and its precursors

University of Virginia

The University of Virginia is a public research university in Charlottesville, Virginia. While most universities have focused research efforts on combating the opioid epidemic directly, such as finding alternatives to opioid medications and overdose prevention, the University of Virginia has taken a different approach to this epidemic. Instead, they focused on the underlying causes of the opioid epidemic, and what we can learn from this to prevent opioid overdoses and deaths. UVA is focusing their research on abolishing common myths surrounding the opioid crisis. One of the main misconceptions is that economic conditions are the primary driver of overdose deaths. Through his research, Professor Christopher Rhum deduced that the drug environment had a more significant impact on the number of deaths. By studying risk factors in opioid abuse and related addiction, we can implement strategies to prevent opioid usage in the most various populations, which in turn will ultimately lead to less opioid usage and overdoses in our communities.

Institution:
University of Virginia
More Information: Professor’s Research Traces Primary Cause of Opioid Epidemic. It’s Not Despair

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California is a private research university in Los Angeles, California. Opioid abuse and dependency not only have the potential to lead to overdose, but also to several blood-borne infections such as HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B. Keck School of Medicine of USC study shows that heroin addiction results in increased risk of injection-related diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV. The survey concluded that almost all individuals who took heroin eventually moved to injecting the substance. On average it took the participants only 6 months from the first time they used to drug to start injecting it.The University of Southern California seeks to prevent people from escalating their prescription drug use into illicit heroin use, which is proven to increase these injected-related illnesses. We can improve our community’s overall health by not only addressing the opioid epidemic directly, preventing overdose deaths, but also by addressing the underlying diseases drug users may carry or be at risk for contacting, and spreading not only amongst fellow drug users but also the general public itself.

Institution:
University of Southern California
More Information: Opioid abuse leads to heroin use and a hepatitis C epidemic, USC researcher says

University of California, Davis

The University of California, Davis is a public research university and land-grant university located near Davis, California. Engineers and physicians at UC have developed a breath test to detect for opioid metabolites in the breath. This new method has many applications. It could assist practitioners in administration of medications to pain patient and even law enforcement in detection of illegal opioid use. Physicians can better manage their patients struggling with chronic pain and ensure appropriate dosing and metabolization of the drugs. Medical technology developments such as this method can further increase the safety and effectiveness of prescribed treatments, as well as having the potential to reduce illicit drug usage, which in turn may lower opioid overdose related fatalities.

Institution:
University of California, Davis
More Information: A Breath Test for Opioids

Penn State

The Pennsylvania State University is a state-related public research university with campuses and facilities throughout Pennsylvania. A new initiative bringing together experts from across Penn State intends to address the challenges of the opioid epidemic head-on. Focusing on innovation rooted in evidence and data. The Penn State Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse (CCSA) aims to develop initiatives with the goal of prevention and treatment of opioid addiction. CCSA hopes to put a stop to addiction by educating the community on the dangers of drug dependence. These research efforts have tremendous benefits for our society. In helping efforts to prevent addiction, especially in youth, while studying the data to shed a light on the risk factors to determine which demographics have a higher probability of developing an opioid use disorder (OUD), and therefore being able to allocate the resources to those who need it the most.

Institution:
Penn State
More Information: Penn State launches new consortium to combat the opioid crisis

Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University is a private research university in Nashville, Tennessee. While most universities focus their studies on prevention and treatment of opioid addiction, Vanderbilt University has taken a unique approach in a subject that is not discussed often, yet very important aspect of combatting the opioid epidemic. Vanderbilt University has been researching multiple barriers to treatment patients face, and how we can appropriately handle opioid dependency in communities that need help the most. Studies conducted by Vanderbilt revealed various hurdles to treatment an addict may face, and steps needed to overcome them. This vital information may be able to help others, and provide insight into how resources should be allocated, to ensure those who need it the most are able to receive proper opioid addiction treatment. Studies which highlight the weaknesses in our current system can present opportunities for improvement, which in turn should reduce opioid overdoses by ensuring those who need help are able to find proper treatment.

Institution:
Vanderbilt University
More Information: Study reveals opioid patients face multiple barriers to treatment

Michigan State University

Michigan State University (MSU) is a public land-grant research university in East Lansing, Michigan. MSU has been leading an important role in the field of opioid addiction medicine, by studying the behavioral patterns of illicit opioid users, and studying the data to develop conclusions. After studying more then 1,000 subjects, all new heroin users, the researchers came to startling conclusions. Previous projections that somewhere between 20 to 25% of users become addicted in the first 12 months were determined to be incorrect. Based on the new data they collected about one-third of users develop a dependency. These statistics may serve as educational measures to teach individuals about the dangers of drug addiction, presenting them with scientifically backed up facts about the risks and dangers associated with using opioids.

Institution: 
Michigan State University
More Information: About 30 percent of new heroin users become dependent in the first year

Johns Hopkins University

The Johns Hopkins University is a private research university in Baltimore, Maryland and it consistently ranks amongst the top academic institutions in the world. The university is also leading the fight again opioid addiction here in the US. Among their solutions to combat the opioid epidemic is to teach medical students the hazards of prescribing opioids, and how to safely treat pain patients. In 2010 JHS developed a class aimed at educating all first-year medical students and showing them a more all-inclusive approach to pain management. As a result, the new practitioners are better equipped to help patients manage their chronic pain and are able to safely administer opioids to ensure they are most effective for the patient’s needs. Initiatives such as this course may pave the way for more comprehensive knowledge of safe opioid prescribing practices, which in turn will result in less widespread opioid addiction, and opioid overdose cases.

Institution: 
Johns Hopkins University
More Information: Teaching medical students how to treat pain

Boston University

Boston University is a private research university in Boston, Massachusetts. Among their research projects is studying behavior patterns of patients using both opioids and benzodiazepines concurrently, which may increase the chances of an overdose. The researchers at the school agree that educating doctors, patients, and the general public concerning the risk of combining benzodiazepines and opioids, should be on top of the priority list. As many as one-third of opioid overdose deaths involve combining them with benzodiazepines, and it is common practice for patients to be consuming both drugs simultaneously. Efforts to educate the public and medical community while conducting research on drug combinations is an effective tool in reducing overdose deaths and saving lives.

Institution: 
Boston University
More Information: More Attention Needed to Dual Use of Opioids, Benzodiazepines

Indiana University

Indiana University Bloomington is a public research university in Bloomington, Indiana. The scientists at IU conducted a pre-clinical study that focused on non-opioid compounds that amplify natural pain killing chemicals in our bodies. This is welcome news as almost 100 million Americans utilized prescription painkillers in 2015 and drug overdose being one of the leading causes of death in the US. Not only are these new compounds non-addictive, research showed they also did not decline in effectiveness overtime like their opioid counterparts. Studies such as this are a promising development in research efforts to develop non-addictive, yet safe and effective pain medications.

Institution: 
Indiana University
More Information: Pre-clinical Study Suggests Path Toward Non-Addictive Painkillers

New York University

New York University is a private research university based in New York City. As US grapples with an opioid epidemic the lawmakers are enacting laws aimed at reducing the numbers of opioid overdoses. A recent study by the researchers at NYU focused on analyzing the correlations between new pain clinic laws, prescribing practices and overdose deaths. Although they did find that the implemented regulations had a positive effect on hazardous opioid prescribing, they carried an unintended consequence of more users turning to illicit drugs. This in turn raises the risk of overdose due to individuals using synthetic substances. Efforts such as these have the potential to save many lives, by better understanding how new laws and regulation effect the habits of users.

Institution: 
New York University
More Information: Analysis of the Association Between Pain Management Clinic Laws and Opioid Prescribing and Overdose Deaths

Yale University

Yale University is a private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. Efforts at Yale have been focuses on preventing youth overdoses and conducting research on children who die from opioid overdose. Studies have found that teen overdose rates are increasing as the opioid epidemic continues to evolve. The university has taken action to determine the causes among the increase in overdose rates. Most of them were tied to the increased use of synthetic opioid use such as Fentanyl. Research efforts such as these help our communities by being able to identify and allocate resources to those who need it most, such as high-risk teen populations. Helping educate and prevent youth before they start opioids or finding treatment methods to help those addicted have the potential to save many lives and help combat the opioid epidemic.

Institution: 
Yale University
More Information: Child deaths from opioids nearly tripled in recent years, says Yale study

University of Michigan

The University of Michigan is a public research university in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The school has focused their research efforts on improving the safety of prescribing opioids in order to reduce addiction and overdose rates. Their endeavors include developing a guide aimed at helping surgeons have a basic guideline on safe, yet effective opioid prescribing practices after common surgeries. This new data driven tool was published online, so that prescribers could use it for free. Efforts such as these enable doctors to better serve their patients, through appropriate pain management, while also reducing their medications side effects and risks. These recommendations have the potential to reduce opioid overdoses in our communities, since not only are commonly prescribed opioids after surgery dangerous, but many street drug users initially became addicted after being prescribed opioids after surgery.

Institution: 
University of Michigan
More Information: These Surgeons Wanted to Prescribe Fewer Opioids. So They Developed a Guide for All to Use