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Mercer Medical School gets $1 million to fight North Georgia opioid abuse

by Mercer University School of Medicine

Posted on Sep 30, 2020 at 0:00 AM

Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) professors Dr. Bryant Smalley and Dr. Jacob Warren received a $1 million grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration for a comprehensive prevention, treatment and recovery initiative to combat opioid overdose in a four-county region of rural North Georgia.

The grant builds upon prior work that established the North Georgia Opioid Prevention and Education Network (North Georgia OPEN), a multi-sector consortium focused on the prevention of opioid use disorder and opioid overdose in Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon and Polk counties.

Coordinated by MUSM’s Center for Rural Health and Health Disparities, the nine-member consortium includes the center, as well as Highland Rivers Health, Gilmer County Probate Court, Appalachian Circuit Drug Court, Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Gordon County Emergency Management, Huff’s Drug Store and Blue Ridge Pharmacy, Northwest Georgia WorkSource Georgia, and Mountain Education Charter High School.

“This federal grant will implement a multi-sector initiative to combat the opioid epidemic in our North Georgia region, following a plan designed for and by our community,” said Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), whose state House district includes Fannin and Gilmer counties. “I applaud the MUSM Center for Rural Health and Health Disparities and all of the local agencies and organizations participating in the consortium for working together on this critical public health issue.”

The three-year initiative will be led by Dr. Smalley, associate dean for research in the School of Medicine, and Dr. Warren, Rufus Harris Endowed Chair and director of the Center for Rural Health and Health Disparities, a National Institutes of Health Center of Excellence within the School of Medicine.

“North Georgia OPEN is a community-driven initiative in one of the regions of Georgia most impacted by the opioid epidemic,” said Dr. Smalley. “We are honored to work with all of these partners, from the local pharmacy to the judicial system, to collaboratively tackle this issue.”

Over three years, the grant will implement and measure the impact of a multi-phase prevention, treatment and recovery initiative with activities ranging from increasing access to overdose-reversing medication to expanding the substance use disorder workforce in the area. In addition, the initiative will implement a number of awareness campaigns, provider trainings and community events to increase community knowledge about preventing overdose.

“We are grateful to the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy for supporting rural communities in their efforts to implement innovative approaches to reduce opioid overdose,” said Dr. Warren. “Overdose is a complex issue requiring collaboration and partnership across many types of agencies, and North Georgia OPEN will help to make a real difference in our counties.”

Dr. Smalley and Dr. Warren have worked extensively with communities to develop, implement and research the impact of rural health initiatives, including work to eliminate maternal and infant mortality disparities, prevent opioid overdoses and counteract the impact of chronic diseases on rural communities.  Through the Center for Rural Health and Health Disparities, the two professors have active initiatives in 12 rural Georgia counties.

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