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Scientists from the UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs have been selected to lead a $25 million study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to test treatments for opioid addiction in rural America.

A separate grant of $3.3 million from the NIH was awarded to another UCLA researcher from the substance abuse programs who will study the effectiveness of using text messages to help people with opioid addiction adhere to their treatment regimens.

The grants will be distributed over five years and are both part of the NIH’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative.

The first study will be led by Yih-Ing Hser, taking place at more than 40 primary care clinics in up to six states across the US. Hser is a distinguished research professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. The study will be specifically focused on rural regions because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of deaths from opioid overdoses is higher and there is typically less access to physicians than in urban areas.

Hser tells, “We’ll build up the infrastructure to get the clinics ready to test the use of medication and behavioral therapies, so that we can conduct the study in as close to real-world settings as possible. A second phase of the study will look at the use of telemedicine to help overcome treatment barriers, such as the long travel time it sometimes takes to reach clinics in rural areas.”

The study’s co-lead investigator, Dr. Larissa Mooney, director of the UCLA Addiction Psychiatry Clinic at the Semel Institute, adds: “This study has the potential to expand access to life-saving treatments for opioid addiction in communities that have been significantly impacted by the opioid epidemic, and for new models of treatment to be sustainable even after the study is over.”

The second study on the effectiveness of using text messages to help people adhere to their treatment regimens will be led by Suzette Glasner, an associate professor-in-residence at the UCLA School of Nursing, and of psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Glasner’s research will assess whether using texts to deliver cognitive behavioral therapy will help patients stick to their opioid treatment medication regimens.

According to Glasner, “Medications for opioid use disorders are the gold standard treatment, and they continue to save and transform lives. But they only work if you take them, and adherence is low. My hope is that our work will help reverse this trend by providing a low-cost intervention.”

To learn more about the NIH-funded research of two UCLA Nursing studies on opioid treatment in rural America, visit here.

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