Jeff Talbert and Trish Freeman

Kentucky Pharmacists’ Collaboration Helps Secure $87 Million HEAL Grant

April 20, 2019


Lexington, KY (Apr 20, 2019)—The opioid epidemic has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and devastated millions more. This problem has engaged the passion, knowledge, and persistence of researchers and health care providers who work on a daily basis to help people with opioid use disorder. 

With an $87 million, 4-year HEAL grant from the NIH and NIDA, a team of researchers at University of Kentucky (UK) led by Dr. Sharon Walsh director of UK’s Center on Drug and Alcohol Research, will collaborate with state and community partners to implement evidence-based interventions to save lives and help people achieve recovery, reduce harms, and inform the nation on what evidence-based strategies will help us heal from the opioid crisis.


Drs. Trish Freeman and Jeff Talbert, professors in the UK College of Pharmacy, are part of the multidisciplinary team that played a crucial role in securing the HEAL grant and will be leading initiatives to address the opioid use disorder epidemic in Kentucky. 


Pharmacists were already playing key roles in the response to the opioid epidemic well before the pursuit of the HEAL grant. The UK College of Pharmacy’s Center for the Advancement of Pharmacy Practice (CAPP), in collaboration with key pharmacy stakeholder organizations in Kentucky, led Kentucky’s efforts in pharmacist-initiated naloxone dispensing.Naloxone is a life-saving drug used to treat overdose. Kentucky was one of the first states to see the rampant abuse of oxycodone, and asa land grant institution it is part of UK’s mission to address and promote the health of the citizens of Kentucky. In another example of Kentucky leading the nation in implementing policy changes addressing the opioid epidemic, UKCOP faculty including Freeman helped construct a new law to allow naloxone dispensing by pharmacists.  ThenFreeman, the Director of CAPP, and others from the College of Pharmacy, trained over 2,600 pharmacists and student pharmacists on the proper administration and dispensing of naloxone.


“Pharmacists are highly educated, and grossly underutilized in majority of practice settings,” said Freeman. “When we looked at the opioid epidemic, we saw our community pharmacists as an untapped resource. It’s estimated that 90 percent of the population lives within five miles of pharmacy. We know we’re accessible; and we can utilize this accessibility to improve patient care.”


UK College of Pharmacy’s Institute for Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy (IPOP), directed by Jeff Talbert, analyzes naloxone dispensing data to understand the impact of this and other policy interventions aimed at mitigating the opioid overdose crisis.  IPOP researchers conduct cutting edge health services research focused at the intersection of evidence-based policy and health care outcomes, with most work focused on public health informatics and substance use disorder outcomes.   


Talbert, the Director of IPOP, will serve as co-director of the Data, Informatics and Biostatistics Core, coordinating data integration and data harmonization for the HEAL grant. Freeman will lead interventions designed to reduce the supply of excess opioids through increased disposal of unused medications; identify and reduce risky prescribing and dispensing behaviors among prescribers and pharmacists; and promote increased use of the opioid overdose reversal agent naloxone.


When asked about the impact of the HEAL grant, Kip Guy, dean of the UK College of Pharmacy, noted,“The HEAL grant puts the resources needed to develop effective population interventions for the opioid epidemic into the hands of those with a demonstrated track record of impacting the problem. Successes in Kentucky demonstrate the necessity of including pharmacists in interprofessional public health interventions. We are the major point of contact for many of the people in Kentucky. Our front-line researchers are committed to solving not only Kentucky’s pressing health care problems but doing so in ways that can be utilized across the globe. At the College of Pharmacy, we encourage innovative discovery and collaborative research, knowing that we all have a role in improving patient outcomes.”


By 2025, it is estimated that Kentucky will experience close to a 30 percent shortfall in primary care provider adequacy as reported in the Health Resources and Service Administration’s Healthcare Workforce Analysis. This means pharmacists will continue to play a key role working with other practitioners to address health needs in the Commonwealth, including helping address opioid use disorder.