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$3.8M NIH Grant Funds Expansion of Researcher’s Opioid Use Recovery Approach to Rural Maryland

By Rachael Grahame ’17

A University of Maryland psychologist is taking the peer-based opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment model she and her team developed in Baltimore, Md., to the state’s Eastern Shore with the support of a $3.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The five-year study by psychology Associate Professor Jessica Magidson and Associate Professor Sarah Kattakuzhy, a physician at the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, is funded by the NIH HEAL Initiative.

They’ll be looking at Magidson’s “Peer Activate” model in a mobile treatment unit (MTU) for individuals with OUD, as well as examining the rising challenge of stimulant use in rural areas such as Caroline County, Md.

“There are no medications available to treat stimulant use like there are for OUD, so behavioral interventions and peer support are crucial,” said Magidson. “Treatment models need to support the majority of patients who are presenting not just with OUD, but multiple substances—including stimulants—who may be more likely to drop out of OUD treatment.”

Unlike Magidson’s Baltimore work, the new study is being deployed on four wheels rather than within four walls. Working with Eric Weintraub—another physician who teaches at the University of Maryland School of Medicine—the Caroline County Department of Health has been using a MTU van to travel to different parts of the county to deliver OUD care since 2019. Through the van, patients can connect with a physician via telemedicine to receive a prescription for buprenorphine, a medication used to treat OUD, as well as support from a certified peer recovery specialist.

“If this peer model continues to be effective and feasible, it could offer a more structured, evidence-based training for peers throughout the country, especially in rural areas,” she said. “Starting in early 2023 in Maryland, peer recovery specialists are going to be able to start billing for some services, which is a real opportunity to sustain peer services. After understanding how peers can deliver evidence-based interventions like the behavioral activation that we're rolling out, I think there will be even more momentum around this approach.”

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