Biology Junior Researches Opioid Abuse Treatment

By Loretta Stafford

The University of Kentucky Institute for Rural Health Policy recently published a report detailing Chellgren Student Fellow and Honors biology junior Elijah Myers's research on buprenorphine treatment availability in Kentucky.

Along with his mentor, Ty Borders, who is a professor in the UK College of Public Health, Myers co-authored "Availability of Buprenorphine Treatment in Kentucky" in which they detailed their research methods and results. Myers explained how he became inspired to explore this subject after learning about Borders' own public health research in class.

"When we first started our project, I had heard about buprenorphine on the news, but I didn't know much about it, so I started reading any article or study I could find,” Myers said. “After I gained some knowledge on the treatment, Dr. Borders and I discussed how it was applicable in Kentucky.”

Prescription opioid overdose deaths have steadily increased over the past two decades. Rates of hospitalizations and deaths due to opioid abuse are highest in rural counties, particularly those in Eastern Kentucky. Buprenorphine, a drug that diminishes dependency to opioids, is both safer and less prone to misuse than methadone, a more popular treatment option. However, in order to treat patients using buprenorphine, physicians must complete an eight-hour training and be approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Federal regulations require a 100-patient waiver, limiting the amount of treatments that a physician can administer each year.

After collecting and analyzing data on the number of waivered physicians in each of Kentucky's 120 counties, Myers concluded that nearly half of Kentucky's counties do not have a waivered physician at all. Approximately one million Kentuckians are without immediate access to buprenorphine.

He described the severe disparity between access to treatment in metropolitan versus rural areas.

"We found that available treatment didn't really correlate with where opioid abuse is most prevalent,” he said. “I do think this study has significant practical use because it shows that improvements to access are necessary before the opioid issue in Kentucky can be remedied."

View the full report here.

Myers plans to earn a dual degree in biology and either public health or business administration. In the future, he plans to continue his studies in pharmacy school.

UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: #uk4ky #seeblue


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