In the Spring of 2017, the Institute launched a new initiative, the MARTI-CBH Regional Opioid Research and Outreach Initiative. It addresses opioid use in Western Pennsylvania, particularly the heroin problem in Indiana and the surrounding counties. The
increasing number of opioid-related drug overdoses resulting in deaths in local counties is alarming. According to a 2016 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report, out of 67 counties in Pennsylvania, Armstrong County, Cambria County, and Indiana
County respectively rank second, third, and fourth in drug overdoses in the Commonwealth.
Victor Garcia, Director, together with Alex Heckert, Associate Director, and Erick Lauber, Director of Community Health and Leadership, are spearheading this initiative, which is organized around research development, the MARTI Summer School, the Opioid
Prevention and Community Health (OPACH) Initiative, the Health Disparities Lecture Series, the Opioid/Heroin Treatment and Other Resources online page, and other efforts.
The initiative includes the development of a research proposal on the rural-based, help-seeking pathways of men and women in search of treatment for their opioid problem. It will draw from a major NIH-funded research project on help-seeking pathways among
Latino immigrants in California, being conducted by Garcia, Anna Pagano (PI), medical anthropologist, and other colleagues at the Prevention Research Center in Oakland, California. For more information about the California project, please visit the
Use of Mutual Help Recovery Houses by Latino Migrant Laborers with Substance Use Disorders.
NIH R21 funding will be sought; the proposal’s development will be in partnership with PRC, where Garcia is an adjunct senior research scientist. Plans are to submit the proposal to the National Institute of Drug Abuse in February 2018 for possible funding
starting in the Fall of 2018. NIH has made the opioid and heroin problem in the region a major funding priority.
A summary of the grant application will consist of:
The MARTI Summer School is also part of the initiative. The title of the 2017 summer school was “Promoting Recovery and Wellness: For Individuals, Families, and Communities.” The many sessions addressed the opioid epidemic in the region, with a particular
focus on responses from Western Pennsylvania. It was held from July 10 to 14.
The MARTI-CBH Summer School Committee labored long hours in organizing the different sessions. The committee was comprised of Alex Heckert, associate director; Christian Vaccaro, director of training, and Melissa Swauger, research associate; Crystal Deemer,
training and conference coordinator; and Dennis Daley, senior clinical director of Substance Use Services at UPMC Health Plan and professor of psychiatry and social work at the University of Pittsburgh.
The conference covered a number of topics, including the following:
Efforts are underway to develop another MARTI summer school around this important public health problem. The tentative dates for the 28th annual summer school conference are July 9–13, 2018. The title of the 2018 conference is “Addictions, Violence, and
Crimes: TIPs for Families, Schools, and Communities (Treatment, Intervention, and Prevention).”
The OPACH Initiative by MARTI-CBH is a community change effort headed by Dr. Erick Lauber, Director of Community Health and Leadership at the institute. It is a community-wide initiative cooperating extensively with AICDAC, the Drug Free Communities
coalition, the county Drug Overdose Task Force, the Open Door, and other organizations. Its goal is to reduce demand for opioid and related drugs in the local environment.
The OPACH Initiative advances several strategic goals of the university. It contributes to the development of the public health major (tactic 1.2.2); it increases student engagement and retention (tactic 2.1.3) and promotes responsible behavior (tactic
4.2.2); it provides an opportunity for students to experience an out-of-classroom learning experience (tactic 2.3.5); and it strengthens IUP’s collaboration with local and community leaders (tactic 4.2.4).
The OPACH Initiative, building upon the work of regional and national organizations such as CADCA, the PITT PERU/TAC org, and others, specifically intends to:
The health disparities lecture series, held on April 11, 2017, featured Aleisha Albertson of the Blair County Drug and Alcohol Program, who talked about her experiences
with addiction and the need for community support in the treatment of substance abuse disorders. Lisa McCann, sociology graduate assistant, has been instrumental in recruiting our speakers and facilitating their talks on campus.
The initiative also includes an opioid/heroin resource page on the MARTI-CBH website, which will become available in the spring of 2018. The resources were located by Shelly Maras, sociology graduate assistant, and Brigitte Burrell and Nancy Sosa Lopez,
former MARTI research assistants and IUP anthropology alumni. The website contains the following:
A local subchapter of
Kacie’s Cause will be established. Kacie’s Cause is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating communities about drug addiction and offering information on resources for addiction treatment and recovery support. This subchapter will
be located on campus and will accomplish the following:
As part of the initiative, the institute organized a campus activity in conjunction with
International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event that is observed annually on August 31. The organizing committee is Lisa McCann, MARTI graduate student, Dr.
Erick Lauber, Director of Community Health and Leadership, and program directors Ann Sesti and Susan Graham from the Center for Health & Well-Being. The event is a platform to raise awareness of drug overdose and death, reduce stigma, and engage campus
and local cimmunities. The many activities include tabling, guest speakers, writing tributes, a Speak Out, and a lighted memorial walk. The Department of Sociology, the Counseling Center, the Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drugs Program, and the Haven Project
were involved as well. Local organizations present included Open Door, Armstrong Indiana Clarion Drug & Alcohol Commission Inc., Blairsville & Surrounding Communities Support Group Against Drugs, My New Leaf, and Celebrate Recovery. Student musicians
of Bacchus Open Mic provided live music. The event was well attended, and plans are to make it an annual event.
Erick Lauber, Director of Community Leadership and Development, has been busy attending local and regional meetings on community-based prevention and intervention efforts aimed at reducing heroin and other opioid use. He has presented the results of his
research on the media’s portrayal of the heroin/opioid problem at recent meetings. He is scheduled to present at more meetings in the coming months. Lauber is also working on other opioid-related projects that he will announce soon.
Garcia participated in the Seminar on Addiction at Calvary Church in Indiana, Pennsylvania. He spoke on the dangers of substance abuse disorders to the individual, family, and community, and also shared his research experience examining SUDs in Latino