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With $3.8 million grant, UW-Madison researchers look to confront opioid crisis

Researchers look to develop, expand mobile treatment app

UW-Madison researchers received a $3.8 million grant which they will use to confront the opioid crisis.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

UW-Madison researchers have set their sights on increasing treatment participation rates and options for those who suffer from opioid addiction after receiving a $3.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Todd Molfenter, head scientist at the Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies, said he will use the funding from the grant to continue the center’s work of developing treatment options for patients who struggle with opioid addiction, with a more focused approach than the center had previously been able to do.

The center has made strides in innovating practices and methods to combat addiction — notably founding the A-CHESS app and program.

A-CHESS provides instant support to patients through an app that allows users to communicate with addiction counselors in real-time, have access to important informational resources, as well as providing a GPS locating service that will trigger an alert on the user’s phone if they come in the vicinity of specific areas of high opioid use or sales, as well as bars and certain predetermined houses.

“When you’re outside of [a treatment center], it gives people mobility with support and tools that travel with them,” Molfenter said.

Still, the researchers face a difficult challenge ahead of them; in 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills.

Additionally, prescription opioid abuse often leads to a digression to heroin use, as four out of five new heroin users started misusing prescription painkillers in recent studies. Currently, about two million American currently suffer from the nationwide epidemic.

Despite programs such as A-CHESS, abuse programs have been experiencing a shortage of qualified social workers, physicians and nurses that specialize in addiction rehabilitation. This shortage of workers undermines the efforts of programs designed to expand aid to reach those who do not seek treatment, Molfenter said.

“It should take a month or two to fill [therapy counselor] positions,” Molfenter said. “Currently, it takes three to six months. The US Department of Labor has predicted between now and 2024 that we will need 22 percent more mental health and substance use disorder counselors — that’s a higher increase than most other fields.” 

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