Social Intervention Group Joins the HEAL Initiative and Will Address Opioid Epidemic in New York State

December 21, 2018 @ 3:43 pm

Determined to find solutions to New York State’s opioid epidemic, CSSW’s Social Intervention Group (SIG)—led by Professor Nabila El-Bassel and her colleagues Louisa Gilbert, Elwin Wu and Tim Hunt—has launched a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional research project to address the growing crisis.

SIG has announced the creation of the HEALing Communities collaboration, which will bring together various scientists from Columbia University along with other prestigious New York City and State-based institutions to contribute to the National Institutes of Health HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) Initiative, which seeks to accelerate scientific solutions to the national opioid epidemic.

New York State currently has the second highest increase in heroin and prescription opioid-related deaths in the nation. According to the New York State Department of Health, the number of deaths increased 135 percent between 2013 and 2016. (This chart presents the number of 2016 deaths by county.)

Says Dr. El-Bassel, “The large growth of overdose death rates in the state is concentrated in several local communities, which have been devastated.”

Unfortunately, despite the availability of treatments for substance use and overdose prevention, only a small percentage of people with opioid use disorders actually receive behavioral interventions or treatments such as naloxone (Narcan), a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. Even fewer people in the justice system receive adequate care. The lack of access to effective treatment across rural and suburban counties in the state threatens to worsen the opioid crisis among these populations.

Dr. El-Bassel is convinced that the solution lies in finding innovative ways to implement treatments at the community level. She has assembled a team with cumulative experience across a wide range of fields, including medicine, pharmacotherapy, implementation science, system science, biostatistics, epidemiology, system modeling, data management, research operations, and the use of social media in research.

Collaborators include:

Lisa Rosen-Metsch (bio), dean of Columbia University’s School of General Studies and professor of sociomedical sciences at its Mailman School of Public Health
Psychiatrists Edward Nunes (bio), Frances Levin (bio), and Aimee Campbell (bio) of the Department of Psychiatry’s Division on Substance Use Disorders, at Columbia University Irving Medical Center; and Jennifer Lima (bio), MPH, of the Medical Center’s SBIRT program
Jeanette Wing (bio), dean of Columbia University’s Data Science Institute, along with other Institute faculty
Epidemiologist Denis Nash (bio) and community health specialist Terry Huang (bio) of City University of New York’s Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy
Community psychologist Bruce Rapkin (bio), Chinazo Cunningham (bio), MD, and Damara Gutnick (bio), MD, of Montefiore and Albert Einstein Hospitals
Bio-statistician Daniel Feaster (bio) of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
Joshua Lee (bio), MD, of New York University Langone Health and Holly Hagan (bio), PhD, MPH, of NYU College of Global Public Health
Sandra Springer (bio), MD, of the Yale School of Medicine.
Governmental and nongovernmental organizations and community partners also play an integral role. They include the health commissioners of New York City and 15 counties in New York State; key officials from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the state’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services; and representatives from the fields of primary care, emergency medicine, and criminal justice.

Says CSSW’s Interim Dean Irwin Garfinkel, “The Columbia School of Social Work’s Social Intervention Group brings unmatched expertise to the myriad issues related to the opioid epidemic. Addressing these social and health-related issues through collaboration with community-based partners is at the very core of the mission of our school. I’m glad that our faculty are dedicated to leading the way to solutions.”

In addition to working at the state level with the support of a HEALing grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the SIG-led research team further aspires to address the opioid epidemic in New York City and across the nation.

Founded almost thirty years ago, SIG develops and implements evidence-based sustainable solutions to emerging health and social issues affecting diverse populations domestically and globally.

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