By Morgan McCarthy
A significant gap exists between the critical assets rural and urban areas have available to fight opioid addiction and public and land-grant universities have a key role in addressing the drug addiction crisis, according to a senior advisor for rural affairs at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Speaking at the 2019 Joint Summer Meeting of the APLU Commission on Economic and Community Engagement (CECE) and Council on Research (COR) , Anne Hazlett called for public universities to engage with their communities to confront the national crisis. Ohio University President’ Duane Nellis moderated the session.
This unprecedented drug crisis presents a monumental challenge, particularly for rural communities, Hazlett said. She noted that between 1999-2015 rural county drug use rose by 300 percent, putting strains on healthcare systems, leading to worker productivity losses, and making economic development more difficult.
Hazlett spoke about ONDCP’s National Drug Control Strategy that focuses on preventing opioid abuse, treating and aiding recovery for substance abuse disorders, and reducing the number of drugs available in communities.
Hazlett said public universities are vital to advancing these goals in rural America and highlighted work several public universities are engaged in to address the drug addiction crisis. First, she noted a policy brief produced by the Swank Program of Rural-Urban Policy at The Ohio State University.
“Taking Measure of Ohio’s Opioid Crisis” estimated the cost of opioid addiction, abuse, and overdose deaths to the state of Ohio to be $6.6 billion to $8.8 billion. Hazlett commended OSU for using the policy brief to advocate for health at the state level. The policy brief Hazlett cited is part of a larger effort by Ohio State to engage in research, partnerships, and education across several colleges and campuses to address the opioid crisis.
Hazlett also praised prevention curricula developed by Iowa State University. “PROSPER” was first tested by the Iowa State University Partnerships in Prevention Science Institute in 2002. The program delivers research-based prevention programs to youth in the area and includes a five-step training and capacity-building system. In 2018, this program was expanded to “PROSPER Rx” that adds opioid specific educational content to “PROSPER” programming in several counties.
The University of Pittsburgh was applauded for their impact in Pennsylvania, specifically for their work educating and screening opioid use at a county level. In 2016, The School of Pharmacy founded the Pennsylvania Opioid Overdose Reduction Technical Assistance Center which collects data from several organizations about opioid use throughout Pennsylvania. This technical assistance center utilizes data to provide insights about where overdoses are likely to occur in the state. Beyond the technical assistance center, in 2018, a task force at the University of Pittsburgh outlined a framework and developed actionable recommendations to further address the opioid epidemic.
Finally, Hazlett commended Ohio University’s involvement in the Appalachian Recovery Project, a women’s treatment and recovery network located in Southeast Ohio. The project is a collaboration between Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs and College of Health Sciences and Professions, and several community partners in the region. Hazlett noted that an opportunity for universities to address the drug crisis is through capacity-building partnerships with local organizations. “Coordination is so important when you are working with a life or death issue,” Hazlett said, “often the first instinct is to jump in and help immediately, but coordination of resources ultimately produces the best results.”
Hazlett sees bright spots of hope for rural America. Hazlett sees public universities as a key partner in fighting opioid addiction and reminded APLU attendees “health happens only in connection and community.”
Morgan McCarthy is the APLU Office of Economic Development and Community Engagement Summer 2019 Intern. She is a senior at Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College and works as an Undergraduate Research Scholar at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.
The four universities highlighted by Anne Hazlett in her keynote are all APLU Innovation & Economic Prosperity Designees. These universities have been recognized for having a deep, substantial commitment to the communities in which they are located. Case studies for the universities in the article can be found here:
You can learn more about the IEP awards at APLU.org/IEP and more about the Commission of Economic and Community Engagement at APLU.org/CECE.
Fighting the crisis of drug addiction is a key priority for ONDCP. Under the leadership of Director Jim Carroll, ONDCP is focusing on the needs of rural communities in this epidemic. Below are links to connect local leaders to more information about resources which may be available to help.