MARTI-CBH Regional Opioid Heroin Research and Outreach Initiative

  • In the Spring of 2017, the Institute launched a new initiative, the MARTI-CBH Regional Opioid Research and Outreach Initiative. It addresses opioid use in Western Pennsylvania, particularly the heroin problem in Indiana and the surrounding counties. The increasing number of opioid-related drug overdoses resulting in deaths in local counties is alarming. According to a 2016 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report, out of 67 counties in Pennsylvania, Armstrong County, Cambria County, and Indiana County respectively rank second, third, and fourth in drug overdoses in the Commonwealth.

    Victor Garcia, Director, together with Alex Heckert, Associate Director, and Erick Lauber, Director of Community Health and Leadership, are spearheading this initiative, which is organized around research development, the MARTI Summer School, the Opioid Prevention and Community Health (OPACH) Initiative, the Health Disparities Lecture Series, the Opioid/Heroin Treatment and Other Resources online page, and other efforts.

    MARTI-CBH Research Development

    The initiative includes the development of a research proposal on the rural-based, help-seeking pathways of men and women in search of treatment for their opioid problem. It will draw from a major NIH-funded research project on help-seeking pathways among Latino immigrants in California, being conducted by Garcia, Anna Pagano (PI), medical anthropologist, and other colleagues at the Prevention Research Center in Oakland, California. For more information about the California project, please visit the Use of Mutual Help Recovery Houses by Latino Migrant Laborers with Substance Use Disorders.

    NIH R21 funding will be sought; the proposal’s development will be in partnership with PRC, where Garcia is an adjunct senior research scientist. Plans are to submit the proposal to the National Institute of Drug Abuse in February 2018 for possible funding starting in the Fall of 2018. NIH has made the opioid and heroin problem in the region a major funding priority.

    A summary of the grant application will consist of:

    • Qualitative/ethnographic research;
    • Two-year study for $275,000;
    • Research sites, Indiana and surrounding counties;
    • Research subjects, men and women seeking treatment; and
    • Findings to be used for identifying obstacles for treatment and successful pathways.

    MARTI-CBH Annual Summer School Conference

    The MARTI Summer School is also part of the initiative. The title of the 2017 summer school was “Promoting Recovery and Wellness: For Individuals, Families, and Communities.” The many sessions addressed the opioid epidemic in the region, with a particular focus on responses from Western Pennsylvania. It was held from July 10 to 14.

    The MARTI-CBH Summer School Committee labored long hours in organizing the different sessions. The committee was comprised of Alex Heckert, associate director; Christian Vaccaro, director of training, and Melissa Swauger, research associate; Crystal Deemer, training and conference coordinator; and Dennis Daley, senior clinical director of Substance Use Services at UPMC Health Plan and professor of psychiatry and social work at the University of Pittsburgh.

    The conference covered a number of topics, including the following:

    • Substance use (SU) and disorders (SUDs);
    • Use of peers in treatment and recovery;
    • Educating educators on SU and SUD issues;
    • Efficacy of medication-assisted treatments for opioid and alcohol dependence; and
    • Stories of success and resilience.

    Efforts are underway to develop another MARTI summer school around this important public health problem. The tentative dates for the 28th annual summer school conference are July 9–13, 2018. The title of the 2018 conference is “Addictions, Violence, and Crimes: TIPs for Families, Schools, and Communities (Treatment, Intervention, and Prevention).”

    The Opioid Prevention and Community Health (OPACH) Initiative

    The OPACH Initiative by MARTI-CBH is a community change effort headed by Dr. Erick Lauber, Director of Community Health and Leadership at the institute. It is a community-wide initiative cooperating extensively with AICDAC, the Drug Free Communities coalition, the county Drug Overdose Task Force, the Open Door, and other organizations. Its goal is to reduce demand for opioid and related drugs in the local environment. 

    The OPACH Initiative advances several strategic goals of the university. It contributes to the development of the public health major (tactic 1.2.2); it increases student engagement and retention (tactic 2.1.3) and promotes responsible behavior (tactic 4.2.2); it provides an opportunity for students to experience an out-of-classroom learning experience (tactic 2.3.5); and it strengthens IUP’s collaboration with local and community leaders (tactic 4.2.4).

    The OPACH Initiative, building upon the work of regional and national organizations such as CADCA, the PITT PERU/TAC org, and others, specifically intends to:

    • Build a community coalition focused on opioid and other drug use prevention.
    • Coordinate local prevention and education efforts.
    • Develop and disseminate targeted and localized media materials.
    • Provide training and educational opportunities for a wide range of IUP students.
    • Support IUP faculty research efforts in this area.
    • Develop and manage a group of community change agents and speakers.
    • Recruit and manage volunteers, and staff a volunteer coordinator position.
    • Create and circulate a newsletter, and develop and maintain a website.
    • Support local efforts to expand treatment and recovery options, such as recovery houses or centers.
    • Support ongoing school-based prevention efforts, including IUP's.
    • Support work-based programs on opioid and substance abuse.
    • Receive and participate in training efforts by regional, state. and national organizations.
    • Evaluate and document all activities of the initiative.
    • Replicate and export best practices through conferences, journals, and community building efforts.

      MARTI-CBH Health Disparities Lecture Series

      The health disparities lecture series, held on April 11, 2017, featured Aleisha Albertson of the Blair County Drug and Alcohol Program, who talked about her experiences with addiction and the need for community support in the treatment of substance abuse disorders. Lisa McCann, sociology graduate assistant, has been instrumental in recruiting our speakers and facilitating their talks on campus.

      MARTI-CBH Opioid/Heroin Treatment and Other Resources

      The initiative also includes an opioid/heroin resource page on the MARTI-CBH website, which will become available in the spring of 2018. The resources were located by Shelly Maras, sociology graduate assistant, and Brigitte Burrell and Nancy Sosa Lopez, former MARTI research assistants and IUP anthropology alumni. The website contains the following:

      • A listing with links to local and regional treatment resources; and
      • Resources on health and addiction.

      Kacie’s Cause Subchapter

      A local subchapter of Kacie’s Cause will be established. Kacie’s Cause is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating communities about drug addiction and offering information on resources for addiction treatment and recovery support. This subchapter will be located on campus and will accomplish the following:

      • Generate awareness of the heroin and opioid addiction crisis in Western Pennsylvania;
      • Convey the need for community support in the addiction treatment process; and
      • Reduce the stigma that often accompanies addiction.

      International Overdose Awareness Day

      As part of the initiative, the institute organized a campus activity in conjunction with International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event that is observed annually on August 31. The organizing committee is Lisa McCann, MARTI graduate student, Dr. Erick Lauber, Director of Community Health and Leadership, and program directors Ann Sesti and Susan Graham from the Center for Health & Well-Being. The event is a platform to raise awareness of drug overdose and death, reduce stigma, and engage campus and local cimmunities. The many activities include tabling, guest speakers, writing tributes, a Speak Out, and a lighted memorial walk. The Department of Sociology, the Counseling Center, the Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drugs Program, and the Haven Project were involved as well. Local organizations present included Open Door, Armstrong Indiana Clarion Drug & Alcohol Commission Inc., Blairsville & Surrounding Communities Support Group Against Drugs, My New Leaf, and Celebrate Recovery. Student musicians of Bacchus Open Mic provided live music. The event was well attended, and plans are to make it an annual event.

      Other MARTI-CBH Initiative Activities

      Erick Lauber, Director of Community Leadership and Development, has been busy attending local and regional meetings on community-based prevention and intervention efforts aimed at reducing heroin and other opioid use. He has presented the results of his research on the media’s portrayal of the heroin/opioid problem at recent meetings. He is scheduled to present at more meetings in the coming months. Lauber is also working on other opioid-related projects that he will announce soon.

      Garcia participated in the Seminar on Addiction at Calvary Church in Indiana, Pennsylvania. He spoke on the dangers of substance abuse disorders to the individual, family, and community, and also shared his research experience examining SUDs in Latino immigrant communities.