Columbia’s HEALing Communities Study Holds First Community Advisory Board Meeting

October 23, 2019 @ 6:22 pm

Led by University Professor Nabila El-Bassel, the meeting marked an important first step in Columbia’s major study initiative to tackle the opioid crisis in New York State.

Earlier this year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that Columbia University would be one of four partners in implementing the HEALing Communities Study that has been set up to tackle the nation’s opioid crisis with the goal of reducing fatalities by 40 percent in three years.

Led by University Professor and Willma and Albert Musher Professor of Social Work Nabila El-Bassel, a team of Columbia scientists, in collaboration with top researchers from several outside institutions, received a grant of $86 million to test a set of proven prevention and treatment interventions, such as distributing naloxone to reverse overdose and linking individuals in the criminal justice system with treatment for opioid addiction, in 16 of the most heavily burdened counties in New York State (indicated in red on this map):

The goals of the study are clear. But how does one get started on such a big and ambitious research project? In mid-July of this past summer, El-Bassel and the members of her Columbia research team took an important first step. They traveled to the state capital, Albany, to meet with the study’s Community Advisory Board (CAB), a group of key stakeholders from across New York State, including

  • state legislators (or their delegates)
  • New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) and NYS Department of Health officials
  • medical providers
  • harm reduction organizations
  • people with lived experience of opioid addiction
  • people who have lost family members to overdose.

Meeting in a space provided by OASAS, the Columbia researchers outlined their plans for the study, and the CAB members in turn provided information on the unique circumstances of the communities where the research will be taking place.

Public health researchers typically use CABs as a way of involving the community and as a means of sharpening the design and implementation of their studies—and the HEALing Communities study is no exception. “The Community Advisory Board is an integral part of the HEALing Communities Study,” Dr. El-Bassel said. “Their role is so significant in making sure that the implementation of the research meets the needs of the community.”

The other three sites involved in the HEALing Communities Study in addition to Columbia University are University of Kentucky (Lexington), the Boston Medical Center, and Ohio State University (Columbus). Like the team in New York State, the teams at these three institutions will be seeking to reduce dramatically the number of overdose deaths in affected communities within Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Ohio, respectively. The ultimate goal of all four interventions is to create a model for helping communities nationwide.

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