UNTHSC Researcher Will Lead National Opioid Crisis Steering Committee

Scott Walters (Courtesy of: UNTHSC)

Scott Walters has been named Steering Committee Chair of the HEALing Communities Study, an aggressive effort to find solutions that will put a stop to the national opioid crisis. Walters is Regents Professor and Chair of Health Behavior at the UNT Health Science Center School of Public Health.

The study is a part of the National Institutes of Health HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-Term) Initiative, which is currently backed by more than $350 million in support.

“My role as Steering Committee Chair will be like that of a stage manager,” says Walters, per release. “To keep track of all aspects of the project and make sure people have what they need to keep things moving.”

Four independent research sites— Boston Medical Center, Columbia University in New York, Ohio State University, and the University of Kentucky— will build on current NIH research to implement, test, and assess proven prevention and treatment strategies for opioid overdose, recovery, and support.

A rise in abuse of prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids has added to the crisis, putting those communities affected by economic downturn at an especially high risk. The study’s goal is to reduce opioid deaths by at least 40 percent over a three-year period in nearly 70 communities struggling with the opioid crisis in Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio by tracking outcomes such as drug fatalities, medication access, prescribing patterns, and treatment initiation.

“What makes this project unique is the scope of the problem we’re addressing and the way it brings solutions together across different channels, including health care, behavioral health, the justice system, and other community-based settings,” says Walters via release.

Walters’ career as a public health professor and researcher focuses on the use of motivational interviewing and technology for behavioral health and substance abuse solutions among varied populations such as probationers, homeless adults, veterans, low-income individuals suffering from mental health issues, and young adults. He hopes this project will implement change on a national level.

“This project will create a national model for curbing the opioid crisis,” says Walters per release. “Nearly 50,000 people died from opioid overdose in 2017, and millions of other Americans are struggling with drug dependence. Overdose rates in some communities have become so great that it’s really a moral imperative for us to find solutions.”