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September 6, 2016   Columns Articles | Inside UGA | UGA researchers receive grant to study effects of public…

UGA researchers receive grant to study effects of public policy to curb opioid addiction

By Erica Hensley | September 6, 2016
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UGA researchers will use a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, to study the effect of public policy aimed at limiting potential misuse and potentially
inappropriate prescribing of opioids in vulnerable populations.

The research grant provides $675,000 over three years to fund the study.

In the last few months, the federal government has mandated stricter warning labels for prescription painkillers and handed down the first-ever set of practitioner guidelines for prescribing painkillers. Also, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy's office is planning to release the first-ever Surgeon General's Report on substance use, addiction and health this year.

In 2013, Georgia became one of few states to enact a new policy to try to curb opioid addiction. The state is doing so by adapting its Medicaid program to more carefully monitor prescription opioid refills, limiting the number of prescriptions for opioids a patient can receive per month and ensuring that certain medications are not used at the same time as opioids. However, until now, the policy's effectiveness has not been tested.

In the UGA College of Pharmacy, assistant professor Jayani Jayawardhana and professor Matthew Perri are leading the investigation to study the impact of the Medicaid policy change.

The study focuses on two aspects of opioid prescribing practices that potentially lead to addiction—prescribing too much and refilling too soon—both of which are risk factors for patient misuse. If prevented, it could lead to lower addiction rates and decreased associated health care costs, according to the research hypothesis.

The research comprises a statewide study of opioid prescriptions and overdoses within Georgia's Medicaid population from 2009 to 2014.

North Carolina will be used as a control group, as the state has not implemented a policy change and has a similar Medicaid population.

Jayawardhana and Perri are using Medicaid pharmacy prescription drug claims data because it provides opioid-use data from a vulnerable population often comprised of people from low socio-economic backgrounds or with substance use disorders. For the five years of data, the researchers will be poring through over 50 million prescriptions from Georgia alone.

The study will examine data from before and after the Georgia policy to track trends and evaluate its impact on several variables: overprescribing of opioids by health care providers and misuse by patients;
patterns in patients' use of health care facilities, like doctor and emergency room visits; and deaths by opioid overdose.

In addition to Perri and Jayawardhana, the UGA research team is comprised of Amanda Abraham in the College of Public Health, Henry Young in the College of Pharmacy and David Bradford in the School of Public and International Affairs. As co-investigators, the researchers contributed to the grant's development and will play an important role in its completion.

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