UGA gets $1.4 million to study opioid crisis

Drugs such as morphine, fentanyl, and oxycodone are such powerful analgesics because they so effectively block pain signals by acting directly on the brain. OxyContin, in 80 mg pills, in a 2013 file image. (Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

The federal government has awarded University of Georgia researchers $1.4 million to study opioid and substance use disorders.

UGA will train about 100 graduate students preparing to become behavioral health professionals in Georgia and throughout the nation, university officials said in an announcement Wednesday. The students will train at hospitals in Athens and surrounding northeast Georgia communities.

Opioid addiction and overdoses is considered a national public health crisis. Emergency room visits and hospitalizations for opioid-related overdoses in Georgia jumped 14 percent between 2017 and 2018, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in May.

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Opioids were involved in 47,600 overdose deaths nationwide in 2017, more than two-thirds of all drug overdose deaths, according to the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Georgia had more than 1,500 deaths that year. President Donald Trump spoke about the problem at a drug summit in April in Atlanta.

“What excites me is that we’ll be able to support and strengthen our training in evidence-based treatments for opioid and substance use disorders for our graduate students, while also providing prevention education to the community,” Bernadette Heckman, principal investigator of the grant and professor in UGA’s College of Education department of counseling and human development services said in a statement. “Students are eager to learn about different kinds of approaches in therapy, which we hope in the long term can fill in some of the gaps in mental health care in our community.”