Sen. Patrick Leahy, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced Thursday that the University of Vermont is receiving $6.6 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Health Resources and Services Administration’s Rural Communities Opioid Response Program for Rural Centers of Excellence on Substance Use Disorders.
Drawing on the groundbreaking work being done at the University of Vermont and the UVM Medical Center to address opioid addiction in rural America, Leahy authored and included provisions in the fiscal year 2019 Labor-HHS Appropriations Act to provide $20 million in new funding to establish three “Rural Centers of Excellence on Substance Use Disorders” around the country.
Leahy said: “Every community and every family has been touched in some way by the struggle of addiction. Rural communities, like those across Vermont, have been at the front lines of the opioid epidemic. These are communities that face unique challenges in confronting this crisis. And Vermont, like so many times before, is leading the nation in addressing this crisis. As a Center of Excellence, the University of Vermont in collaboration with the UVM Medical Center and other statewide partners will be able to build on their innovative work to combat addiction and apply those lessons to rural communities around the country. It is my hope that this new center will help rural communities halt the scourge of opioid and other addictions in their tracks.”
This funding will go toward the creation of a University of Vermont Center on Rural Addiction that will be dedicated to identifying, translating, disseminating, and implementing Hub and Spoke, Community Reinforcement Approach and other evidence-based approaches to address the opioid epidemic in rural communities. The Center of Excellence at the University of Vermont will implement the rollout of three strategic priorities including surveillance, education and outreach, and technical assistance to rural communities. Its principal investigator, Stacey C. Sigmon, is a clinical opioid researcher in the Larner College of Medicine who has conducted opioid and other addiction research at UVM for three decades. The center also will partner with the University of New Hampshire and the University of Southern Maine.
Suresh Garimella, the University of Vermont’s president, said: “We at the University of Vermont are honored and grateful to have been selected to receive this significant award which will contribute to stemming the devastating effects of substance abuse in Vermont and the nation, in keeping with our land-grant mission. This grant provides UVM an opportunity to build on our outstanding basic science research to address this major societal challenge, partnered with the unparalleled clinical care provided by the University of Vermont Medical Center to patients with opioid dependence.”
As Appropriations vice chairman, Leahy secured $20 million in the 2019 Appropriations Act that provides funding for the HHS Department to establish three centers dedicated to the unique needs of rural communities in addressing the opioid crisis. With unique challenges like access to treatment and prevention centers, rural communities have been devastated by the opioid epidemic with greater rates of lethal overdoses than their urban counterparts.
Vermont has led the nation in confronting this crisis in rural America with new and innovative approaches like the Hub and Spoke model, which takes a system-wide approach to addressing addiction. The University of Vermont has been a leading contributor to much of this pioneering work across the state and has taken their findings to other rural communities across the country that seek innovative, successful ways to deploy new federal resources provided in recent years to combat the opioid epidemic.
Leahy drew on this innovative and collaborative approach in creating the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program. Other recipients of the grants are New York and Georgia. The centers will focus on researching science-based, community approaches to the opioid crisis and implementing those approaches around the country by providing scientific and technical assistance.