UA receives millions in grant money to combat drug overdoses amid the pandemic

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) – Drug overdose deaths are a big concern across the country, and the University of Arizona Health Sciences has received millions in grant money to help combat the growing problem amid the pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths topped 100,000 in the United States in 2021. Researchers say that’s a 28% increase from more than 78,000 overdose deaths in 2020.

The Tucson Fire Department was called to nearly 2,500 overdose or poisoning calls in 2021. This year, the department already has responded to nearly 300 calls.

Todd Vanderah, interim director of the UA Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center, said the $6.6 million in grant money received from the National Institute on Drug Abuse will be used to lower those numbers in Tucson and across the nation.

“Unfortunately, it’s something a lot of people will succumb to because they feel like there’s nothing left. Again, these last few years have been sort of tough times for people to go through, and unfortunately, they can fall down that road to relapse or misuse substances,” Vanderah said.

Vanderah said the pandemic reassured health leaders of their current research. They know isolation, despair and pandemic fatigue all play a part in that spike in overdoses.

He said that’s why it’s crucial that the grant money arrived at the right time.

“There is a decision that’s made along the line where someone says, ‘Hey, taking these opioids just make me feel better,'” Vanderah said. “Yes, the pain is gone but it kind of removes some of my issues. My problems, my anxiety, my depression.” Then the unfortunate decision is made where someone decides to misuse these opioids.”

Vanderah said they’re working to understand why someone makes the initial decision to misuse drugs. He said one of the main goals of the study is to figure out why that decision is made, then learn how they can help stop people from going down the path to addiction.

“I want the community to know that we are actively working in multiple avenues in order to help people with substance use disorder. Not only are we doing research, both at the clinical areas and pre-clinical, but also we’re doing education and legislation and training.”

Vanderah said the door is open if anyone wants to get involved. He said the center is working to provide education and host more events to let the public know the severity of the drug epidemic. Contact UArizona Health Sciences if you want to be a part of the solution.

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