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New UB grant will help treat New Yorkers addicted to opioids

By Cathy Wilde

Release Date: September 26, 2017

Kenneth Leonard, director of UB's Research Institute on Addictions.

Kenneth Leonard

“Thanks to this OASAS initiative, we will be able to address a critical need in our state, and help potentially thousands of people who struggle with heroin and prescription opioid addiction.”
Kenneth Leonard, director, Research Institute on Addictions
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Research Institute on Addictions and faculty from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences will lead a University at Buffalo effort to combat the opioid crisis in New York State.

Through a grant from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), RIA will coordinate a state-wide program to train medical professionals in high-need regions in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) of opioid addiction.

“Thanks to this OASAS initiative, we will be able to address a critical need in our state, and help potentially thousands of people who struggle with heroin and prescription opioid addiction,” says Kenneth Leonard, PhD, RIA director.

University-based clinicians will be working with physicians, public health and mental health officers, and addiction treatment centers in seven regions of New York to train health care practitioners in using buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction. Buprenorphine is an FDA-approved medication that helps control cravings and withdrawal symptoms in addicted patients.

The seven New York regions encompass 16 underserved counties and tribal areas which have been identified by OASAS as having the highest need for assistance because of their high opioid death and hospitalization rates.

The training program is multi-faceted and will consist of focus groups to identify potential physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners who are interested and eligible for training; online and in-person training for safely prescribing buprenorphine and monitoring patients in treatment; and ongoing expert tele-mentoring and consultation to assist in the implementation of the treatment program.

“This grant award to the Research Institute on Addictions is great news in our battle against this growing public health crisis,” said State Sen. Chris Jacobs, co-chair of the New York State Senate’s Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction.  “I have heard from health care professionals and service providers across the state on the need to develop and implement more medically assisted treatment programs, and I look forward to seeing the impact of this work in fighting the heroin and opioid epidemic in New York State.”

In addition to Leonard, other Western New York advisors to the program include Gale Burstein, MD, MPH, Erie County commissioner of health and clinical professor of pediatrics in UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; Nancy Nielsen, MD, PhD, senior associate dean for health policy in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; and Paul Updike, MD, medical director of chemical dependency services, Catholic Health System.

“Congratulations to the University at Buffalo for securing this OASAS grant,” said New York State Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes. “Opioid addiction is widespread in Western New York and throughout New York State. With the faculty and staff’s high level of talent and expertise within RIA and the school of medicine, I have complete faith that they will design an impactful program to help New York’s communities address this epidemic, and I look forward to their findings. I would also like to thank Gov. Cuomo and OASAS Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez for making this opportunity possible.”

“UB aims to bring the latest in addiction science, clinical care and education to our region and the state,” Nielsen says. “We are proud the medical school is merging its expertise with RIA to bring medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction to areas in need of this valuable tool that has been shown to help people live healthier, more productive lives.”

In addition, Leonard says, this effort expands on UB’s involvement in the Erie County Opioid Epidemic Task Force, on which he, Burstein, Nielsen and Updike also serve. “UB has been at the forefront in seeking responses to the opioid problem now plaguing our state,” he says.

RIA is a research center of the University at Buffalo and a national leader in the study of alcohol and substance abuse issues. RIA’s research programs, most of which have multiple-year funding, are supported by federal, state and private foundation grants. Located on UB’s Downtown Campus, RIA is a member of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and a key contributor to UB’s reputation for research excellence. To learn more, visit buffalo.edu/ria

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