The Ohio State University Alumni Association

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Applying innovation to the opioid crisis

With the establishment of a $1 million Opioid Innovation Fund, Ohio State is leveraging partnerships in search of solutions.

Ohio State’s varied approach to combating the opioid crisis calls for public-private partnerships to consolidate resources and use technology in new ways. The new Opioid Innovation Fund puts serious weight — and money — behind that strategy. Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce McPheron announced the fund in October, and 10 recipients of the more than $1 million in grant money are scheduled to be announced soon. McPheron answered some questions for Ohio State Alumni Magazine about the fund and Ohio State’s strategy for responding to the opioid crisis.

The opioid crisis seems like an insurmountable problem. Big-picture, what does Ohio State hope to contribute in the search for solutions to this problem?

The crisis is a monster with many heads, but the problem isn’t insurmountable. As with past public-health emergencies, the nation will meet the challenge, and Ohio State and other leading research universities will play a decisive role. Ours is a two-part strategy: to mitigate the suffering and devastation going on now, and to identify and address the underlying causes of the crisis. The Opioid Innovation Fund is geared toward the short-term. We want to develop tools and programs that can be deployed quickly. This builds on what we’re already doing through The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Ohio State University Extension, several colleges and various treatment programs. Our long-term contributions are rooted in the interdisciplinary depth we bring to bear on a problem that involves issues of medicine, public health, mental health, public policy, education and social work, among others.

Can you tell us broadly about some of the ideas that have come forward in the Opioid Innovation Fund grant application process?

The range of proposals speaks to our interdisciplinary strength. Eighty-nine pre-proposals were submitted, and 33 were recommended for final submission. The proposals encompass ideas for prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery. Some are practice-based, some involve outreach, and others focus on technology. We’ll know the winning proposals soon. The first grant recipients in the Opioid Innovation Fund will be announced later this month.

Ohio has the unfortunate distinction of being a focal point of this nationwide crisis. But other states are in similar positions. How can the ideas that emerge from Ohio State's research be scaled to assist our counterparts elsewhere in the country?

The scope of the crisis naturally connects the federal government, state and local governments, universities, health agencies, hospitals and others working on the problem. The nation is looking for answers, and as they emerge, they will be quickly shared. Our expectation is that the Opioid Innovation Fund will deliver answers very soon and continue to do so. The criteria put a premium on projects that can be critically evaluated, sustained and scaled up. So, you can be sure that answers we find here will be shared with other states.

Besides funding research through the Opioid Innovation Fund, how is or can Ohio State direct resources to this issue? For example, are we trying to attract faculty who can provide thought leadership in this field?

Attracting faculty with dedicated expertise in the different facets of the problem is important to our progress and certainly a priority. And it will complement the considerable work that Ohio State already is doing. For starters, consider the Wexner Medical Center. It is hitting the problem on many fronts, all directed by the Opioid Crisis Steering Committee.

Then there’s the work going on in our colleges. For example, the College of Social Work recently received a $3 million grant to address child abuse and neglect in families with addiction problems, and the College of Pharmacy continues to educate the public about prescription drug misuse through its nearly decade-long collaboration in the Generation Rx program.

Our campus treatment programs are vital, too. The Suboxone Maintenance and Recovery Treatment program is one of them. It supports students with a history of opioid use by offering maintenance treatment and psychosocial support.