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University of Kentucky research team looks at opioid usage among Black communities

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Posted at 5:18 PM, Jun 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-06 18:18:01-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The University of Kentucky’s REFOCUS study is one of the nation's first, or even only, a project that focuses solely on the opioid epidemic among Black Americans. A team of 10 including students, post-doctoral grads, and staff are looking into misuse behaviors.

University of Kentucky professor Dr. Danelle Stevens-Watkins, says, "Overdose rates specifically among Black Americans, have now surpassed that of White Americans... and we don't really know why. And so, that is kind of the purpose of REFOCUS."

Dr. Danelle Stevens-Watkins shares that most of the REFOCUS team has been personally impacted by someone's drug usage. She says this study is looking to learn more about the mental impacts of opioid use in these communities.

"Even in my own household and thinking about our own family members and how drug use has impacted lives and decisions and so forth."

National data shows that overdose deaths among African Americans have significantly increased over the last couple of decades. That's why this research group believes that focused data will make the difference.

"The trajectory of opioid misuse will vary by gender and age cohort depending on life circumstances," said Dr. Stevens-Watkins.

This study focuses on men and women between the ages of 18 and 65. Researchers say now, most research on opioid use only compares data across races. This study seeks to speak directly with the community and learn more about decisions to misuse drugs - to help inform interventions that are culturally fitting for Black Americans.

Additionally, Dr. Stevens-Watkins explains, that the group is looking to break stigmas.

"We want to stop the stigma associated with discussing drug use and drug problems in our community."

Dr. Stevens-Watkins explained that the way communities look at drug usage can vary by race - that's whether it's seen as a moral failure or a medical issue. In either case, she says the opioid epidemic is impacting everyone and it's something all communities should be aware of.

"All people are dying. Black people are dying, white people are dying and so, it is critical that we intervene and try to save lives because this is a life-saving mission that we have."

Dr. Stevens-Watkins says she hopes that policy changes will make people of color more comfortable with harm reduction strategies - like the use of Narcan. The groups also hope to diversify the drug treatment workforce.