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In a country in the throes of an epidemic, few places have been more ravaged by opioids than Kentucky.

More than 47,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2017 and more than 2 million citizens in this country have opioid use disorders. Life expectancy in this country has dropped – driven, in large measure, by deaths from drug overdoses.

Kentucky, in many respects, is at the epicenter of the crisis:

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Our state is among the Top 10 in the country in deaths from opioid addiction.

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More than 1,100 people died from opioid overdoses in the Commonwealth in 2017.

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A consequence of this epidemic includes dramatic increases in the incidence rates of other diseases, from Hepatitis to HIV.

In a country in the throes of an epidemic, few places have been more ravaged by opioids than Kentucky. More than 47,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2017 and more than 2 million citizens in this country have opioid use disorders. Life expectancy in this country has dropped – driven, in large measure, by deaths from drug overdoses.

Kentucky, in many respects, is at the epicenter of the crisis.

Not only are these staggering figures likely underestimated, they also fail to capture the full extent of the damage of the opioid crisis, which reaches across every domain of family and community life—from lost productivity and economic opportunity, to intergenerational and childhood trauma, to extreme strain on community resources, including first responders, emergency rooms, hospitals and treatment centers.

However, we believe Kentucky can turn the tide on this scourge.

In the largest research grant ever received by the University of Kentucky, researchers from UK spanning six colleges, in partnership with state leaders, will launch a project through the NIH’s HEALing (Helping End Addiction Long Term) Communities Study, a four-year, $87 million study aimed at reducing opioid overdose deaths by 40 percent.

Already on the front lines in researching and combating opioid use disorder, the HEALing Communities Study places UK squarely among the country’s leaders in finding long-term, sustainable solutions to this epidemic.

As one of four sites nationwide, UK and the Commonwealth of Kentucky will address the opioid epidemic in a randomized study that includes 16 Kentucky counties acutely impacted by opioid use disorder. The study will leverage existing resources and initiatives, in partnership with communities, to implement strategies and set evidence-based standards that will become a national model for fighting the opioid epidemic.

The idea and hope is what works in these communities can be scaled and replicated across the state and country. It is premised on the profoundly powerful idea that communities and a state working together, harnessing the intellectual talent and dogged determination of a flagship research university, can transform lives and communities across the state and the country.

What is possible?

That is the question we ask every day at the University of Kentucky.

It underscores the power behind the Kentucky CAN HEAL grant. It’s a historic, more than $87 million investment in the University of Kentucky over the next four years.

The collective energy, talent, and efforts of Kentucky’s flagship and land-grant research university – in partnership with the Commonwealth we have served for more than 150 years – are being marshaled to combat one of our country’s greatest challenges: the destruction wrought by opioid use disorder, addiction, and death.

Kentuckians know the insidiousness of this disease better than most.

The opioid epidemic does not discriminate by zip code, race, income, or any other demographic characteristic. It is not a character or moral failing, but an illness. It's unforgiving. It touches us all.

We all know someone – a member of our family, a loved one, a lifelong friend, or classmate – whose life has been touched and damaged by this illness. They are us.

But there is hope.
There is us.

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