The Indiana University Grand Challenge Program: Tackling Addiction Through Dedicated Research

Far too often, society views addiction to alcohol or drugs as something that happens to others. Those who don’t suffer from addiction see it as a condition that lies outside their realm of existence. Unfortunately, the numbers in modern America tell a different story.

Addiction goes beyond cravings. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a chronic medical disease that disrupts connections between brain activity, experiences, and perception. In some cases, the condition is rooted in genetic probability. In other situations, it’s the result of environmental factors.

A person suffering from addiction faces constant cravings and triggers to use. The need to fulfill a craving outweighs any risk of physical, mental, or emotional harm.

Addiction is a disease that frequently develops after initial experimentation. The sense that addicts can “exercise control” is deceiving. Without fully understanding how addiction works, it’s easy to spiral into dangerous territory.

Types of Addiction to Consider

Mention the word “addiction” and “alcohol” and “drug abuse” likely come to mind. While these types of substances are common triggers, addiction extends beyond these parameters.

Addicts find themselves battling the disease in many different forms. They struggle with moderation and take normal and healthy activities, such as eating or working, to excessive limits. Gambling and sex are other activities that can become detrimental to those with addiction.

Habits turn to addictions when the person partaking in the activity can no longer control their desire or craving for that activity. At this point, the risk of both psychological and physical harm becomes a reality.

Addiction and Risk

Typically, addiction is considered to be a treatable disease. However, it’s also a disease with a high risk of death.

Across the United States in 2019, nearly 50,000 people died from the misuse of opioids. Among these cases, illicitly produced fentanyl was a primary culprit.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, as of 2019, just over 20 million American adults over the age of 12 suffer from a substance abuse disorder of some type. The same year, The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported that around 15 million Americans 12 and older suffered from some kind of alcohol abuse disorder.

While addiction rages on in our society, the consequences become more severe with every passing year. The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics estimates more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths happen across the U.S. annually. This number is estimated to increase about 4% every 12 months. Within the statistics, alcohol poisoning takes more than 95,000 lives.

A Focus on Indiana

A look at these numbers indicates a growing issue across the country. As is often said, addiction is a disease that doesn’t discriminate. It does not affect one specific race, gender, or group of people more than another.

Instead, addiction is a non-discerning disease with a powerful grip on a growing number of Americans. At Indiana University, research on addiction has shown alarming numbers, too.

It’s estimated that one out of every 12 state residents suffers from a substance abuse disorder. That equals nearly half a million people struggling with addiction.

Indiana has recorded over 4,000 deaths related to opioid abuse in the past ten years alone. Since 2010, statistics have shown fatal drug overdoses nearly doubling across Indiana’s population.

There are economic impacts at work as well. Experts estimate that over the last 15 years, the state has spent more than $43 billion related to the opioid crisis. These numbers prove that addiction is a major issue in the state.

The Grand Challenge Program at Indiana University

Efforts on behalf of private rehabilitation centers across Indiana to provide comprehensive treatment options have steadily increased. However, by 2017 it was clear that the state needed to invest in something more to battle the rise of addiction.

Academics and professionals at Indiana University began to consider the idea of organized cross-research efforts that focused explicitly on combating addiction. The idea was that this would build understanding around addiction’s origins and provide paths to combating it.

In 2017, Indiana University officially launched the Grand Challenge Program. Since then, the program continues to make significant progress in this far-reaching and impactful field of study. 

What Does the Grand Challenge Program at Indiana University Entail?

The Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge Program is an active response to an ongoing issue in the state of Indiana. The program was first announced by the president of Indiana University, Michael A. McRobbie, who served in his role from 2007 until July 2021.

The program was fully developed in partnership with Governor Eric J. Holcomb. The teams at Eskenazi Health and Indiana University Health also contributed to the effort.

The addiction-focused initiative is part of Indiana University’s bicentennial Grand Challenges Program. The Grand Challenges Program pairs research efforts and state resources to address issues critical to the state’s wellbeing.

The Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge aims to reduce substance use disorders and prevent associated deaths. There are three primary goals to the program. These include:

●     Decreasing the number of overdose fatalities

●     Reducing overall substance use disorder numbers

●      Lessening the percentage of infants born in Indiana with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

In total, Indiana University hosts seven campuses and over 160 partnerships. Each plays a pivotal role in the Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge Program.

Interdisciplinary Research Efforts

Under the direction of Indiana University School of Nursing’s Dean Robin Newhouse, the program has called upon 32 teams of researchers. The combined efforts of these teams focus on six specific categories. Each is related to addiction and substance abuse in Indiana. They include:

●     New treatment options

●     Stigma

●     Law and policy

●     Prevention and harm reduction

●     The economic impact of the opioid crisis

●     How the crisis affects the state workforce

Beyond these research teams, the program also focuses on creating a multi-faceted approach to fighting addiction across the state. That requires the help of local and state governments.

It also involves contributions by nonprofits and businesses. Information, research, and help from families, individuals, and businesses negatively affected by addiction are essential to the program’s long-term success.

Five primary areas of focus make up the parameters of the program. These exist in addition to the six research categories. The five areas include:

●     Data science and analysis

●     Education, training, and certification

●     Policy analysis, economics, and law

●     Basic, applied, and translation research

●     Community engagement and workforce development

The five-point focus aims to develop innovative approaches to fighting addiction. It’s also meant to reduce the devastating consequences that occur when addiction is left unchecked.

Within data science and analysis, program participants and researchers are working to gain a clear picture of where addiction originates. The goal is to pass information onto health professionals and policymakers who can implement substantial change based on data.

Those working on the education, training, and certification aspect of the program are focused on healthcare professionals. Their goal is to provide them with the tools and resources they need to help addicts in Indiana recover. Providing healthcare professionals with resources will make these specialists a lifeline those suffering from addiction can depend on.

Program professionals working in the arena of policy analysis, economics, and law are utilizing addiction-focused data to work alongside state legislators. Over time, the goal is to develop policies specific to the addiction crisis built on a foundation of data and facts.

Within the area of basic, applied, and translation research, program participants are focused on the fact that addiction is not a craving. It’s a disease. This group looks closely at environmental factors and genetic probabilities that drive addiction numbers up across the state.

The community engagement and workforce development professionals within the program are reaching out to communities across Indiana. Together, they’re looking for innovative answers to how to fight addiction.

Progress That’s Been Made in the Fight Against Addiction

At its most fundamental level, the Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge Program aims to care for and help those suffering from addiction. The people, professionals, groups, and businesses involved are committed to gathering the data that will help others do the same well into the future.

While the information discovered and utilized through the program is focused on Indiana’s success, the results will apply to similar scenarios playing out across the nation. The initiative is designed to:

●     Educate community members on stigma

●     Train students to recognize addiction as a disease

●     Assist healthcare professionals in helping addicts

All of these goals are beneficial across state lines. They could also apply on a global level.

To date, the state of Indiana has seen some significant and promising results directly related to this program’s work. Currently, the program is working across 34 state counties. That alone makes up 100 partner organizations and 160 program partnerships.

Additionally, over 1,400 students in social work, education, and health science have trained themselves on innovative and cross-disciplinary pain management approaches. These approaches are specific to addiction.

The program works closely with the team at Overdose Lifeline. This partnership trains community members on how to use naloxone, which can resuscitate someone experiencing an opioid overdose. To date, over 100 people have received comprehensive and lifesaving training of this type.

The Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge Program has successfully developed a referral to treatment tool. That makes it easier to pinpoint treatment centers that would be effective for outpatient referrals.

The program has also successfully implemented a training program known as the CARE Plus project. This program hires and develops peer recovery coaches.

These addiction specialists have cared for over 190 young mothers and women suffering from addiction. Through this project, pregnant women suffering from addiction are provided with recovery resources early on.

Within the parameters of the program, three new degree and certificate programs have begun, as well. These programs are focused on addiction counseling to strengthen recovery resources and availability across the state.

Partnering with influential state groups, missions, and communities has been integral to the program’s success. The program has worked alongside the Indiana State Museum to create an exhibit showcasing stigmas around the topic of addiction.

The Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge Program also works closely with the Indianapolis Coalition for Patient Safety. This pairing led to creating a video series and online courses that work to diminish the stigma against addiction. The online courses are free to attend, and over 300 nurses and community members have enrolled so far.

At the Indiana University Family Medicine Center, the program has played an essential role in educating healthcare professionals on issues of pain management related to those suffering from addiction (i.e., how to provide safe pain relief for recovering addicts). This partnership led to the development of the Comprehensive Pain Assessment Clinic in Indianapolis. Over 100 individuals have trained on the topic of pain control at the clinic. 

Officials observe the success of the program in the state’s public school system. The development of a school-based program focused on helping students recognize and handle stress in healthy ways is considered to be a giant leap in the right direction. This program is designed to reduce future substance use in youth by providing them with alternative resources to depend on. 

Regarding funding, The Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge Program has proudly acquired more than $23.4 million stemming from 49 external grants. These grants were secured across 16 research teams.

Currently, the program has produced and published 99 scholarly articles and hosted 142 public events. These events have included everything from informative panels and workshops to academic conferences, too. 

A Future-Forward Initiative for Indiana, the Nation, and the World

Indiana University’s commitment to creating healthy, addiction-free communities across the state has so far achieved great success. It’s a path filled with potential in the face of a crisis that affects every community, state, nation一the entire world. What this program can develop and teach will significantly impact how society combats addiction going forward.

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