News Behavioral/ Mental Health

Institute funds two projects aimed at preventing Opioid Use Disorder

Written by Kim Furlow, communications manager for the Institute for Public Health

The Institute for Public Health has awarded pilot funding to two research projects aimed at the prevention or treatment of Opioid Use Disorder. The two awards originate from the institute’s May 2022 Next Steps in Public Health event, which convened WashU faculty, St. Louis community organizations, health providers and local government representatives to discuss ways to help stem the tide of what has become a critical epidemic. The event featured a presentation by Deputy Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Wilson M. Compton, MD entitled, “Next Steps in Public Health for Opioid Use Disorder”.

The following projects were awarded up to $50,000 in pilot funding:

Project: Early identification of opioid and other substance use in pregnant patients in acute care environments

Primary Investigators: David Liss, MD, asst. professor of emergency medicine and medical toxicology; Jason Devgun, MD, asst. professor of emergency medicine; Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Project Summary: Opioid overdose is rising in the United States and is the most common cause of accidental death among pregnant women in Missouri. Pregnant patients are screened less often than their peers during emergency department (ED) encounters despite increased rates of smoking and drug use for those who use the ED during the perinatal period. Additionally, pregnant patients with substance use disorders have higher rates of inadequate or late entry into prenatal care. Delayed identification of substance use in pregnancy can lead to worsened maternal and infant outcomes. This project identifies the prevalence of substance use in two key locations where pregnant women seek care, and prospectively measures the feasibility and accuracy of verbally screening for substance use among newly pregnant mothers. This project will also tests key features of a referral system that links pregnant mothers with substance use to a holistic, dynamic and integrated treatment plan.  


Project:  Moving Upstream – Expanding Harm Reduction Training and Low‐Barrier Care
for Unstably Housed People Who Inject Drugs

Primary Investigator: Nathanial Nolan, MD, MPH, instructor of medicine at VA St Louis Health Care and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Project Summary: The St. Louis region is disproportionally affected by the opioid epidemic, with an overdose death rate that continues to grow annually. With the growth of injection drug use in the region, there has been a surge in injection-related infections, including rising rates of Hepatitis C and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The goal of this study is to adapt our prior harm reduction interventions and, through community partnerships, to test the feasibility of a community‐based intervention bundle (harm reduction education and supplies, and point-of- care testing for HIV and Hepatitis C aimed at preventing the negative consequences of injection drug use.


Read more about Institute for Public Health funding resources and opportunities.

The objective of Institute for Public Health Next Steps events is to produce concrete, actionable items such as reports, research agendas, policy priorities, and dissemination plans that will make an impact. Faculty from across the university participate alongside governmental representatives, health care providers, and community partners, each inspiring innovative ideas as the event encourages new collaborations. Longstanding institutional partner BJC HealthCare helps make the Next Steps in Public Health event series possible.