NKU's Institute for Health Innovation reaches out to rural communities to battle an epidemic

Rural Owen County, Ky., 50 miles south of the Ohio River, has one of the highest risk rates for drug overdoses in the region, combined with limited treatment facilities and obstacles to accessing them.

Over the past year, a Northern Kentucky University team has been working with that community to expand access to treatment and support and improve services that address early intervention.

The University’s Institute for Health Innovation is a cross-disciplinary team that works with St. Elizabeth Healthcare and other organizations to improve services in communities hard hit by the opioid crisis.

Their efforts recently received two federal grants to support their work.


NKU will receive $1 million as part of the U.S. Health Resources Services Administration Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, a multi-year initiative to address barriers to access in rural communities related to substance use disorders. The agency is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


NKU also received $847,008 from HRSA’s Opioid Workforce Expansion Programs for Professionals and Paraprofessionals. This award supports training for behavioral health providers to help coordinate a unified approach to training through academic and community partnerships.

University officials said NKU, with its collaborators from across northern Kentucky, received more federal funding than any other university in the Commonwealth to support HHS's Five Point Opioid Strategy.

“The collaboration that went into receiving these grants is truly a transdisciplinary effort, spanning nine community partners in northern Kentucky and seven departments across NKU,” said Dr. Valerie Hardcastle, St. Elizabeth Healthcare executive director of the Institute for Health Innovation. “We hope these funds allow us to scale up the work we are doing in Owen County to serve as blueprint for other rural communities.”

The number of patients receiving medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction at HRSA-funded health centers increased 142 percent from 2016 to 2018, according to HHS.

In 2018, the IHI received a federal grant to establish the Owen County Collaborative Addiction Treatment Initiative, a consortium of northern Kentucky community partners invested in addressing substance use disorder and health care gaps in the eight-county northern Kentucky region.


The new awards bring the total amount of grant funding that the IHI has received since its initiation last summer to $3.6 million.


The NKU team includes faculty members from the university’s departments of human services and addiction, psychology, health communications, social work, clinical mental health, criminal informatics and nursing.



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Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is the managing editor of NKY Thrives, an award-winning journalist, and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading or watching classic movies.