UK Center for Health Services Research Collaborates with Health Departments to Study Injection Drug Use

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded the University of Kentucky Center for Health Services Research (CHSR) funding to study the adoption of syringe exchange programs in rural communities in the Appalachian region of Kentucky.

Rates of opioid use disorder and injection drug use have risen significantly in Kentucky, especially in rural communities. The serious health consequences of injection drug use include the spread of the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) and HIV infection. Kentucky is home to eight of the ten counties in the nation the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified as most vulnerable to an outbreak of HIV. CHSR's focus on community-engaged health disparities research in underserved communities aligned closely with the NIH funding opportunity to examine structural level interventions among people who inject drugs.

The two-year National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded study is designed to reach vulnerable injection drug users in Clark, Knox, and Pike counties to understand the multi-level barriers to access syringe exchange programs and to identify priority intervention targets and strategies to increase uptake.

The project’s principal investigator, Hilary Surratt, associate professor in the UK College of Medicine, led this collaborative effort which involves a robust partnership with the Clark, Knox, and Pike County Health Departments. The research will engage community stakeholders, gathering data and input from people who inject drugs, health department staff, substance abuse treatment providers, law enforcement, and other community stakeholders. This data will inform changes to policies and practices of syringe exchange programs and the development of multi-level prevention strategies to enhance access and utilization of rurally located syringe exchange programs. The study aims to enhance HIV and HCV prevention efforts and delivery of treatment addressing critical disparities in accessibility among rural communities.