UCLA’s Integrated Substance Abuse Programs Friday was selected to lead a study on treatments for opioid addiction, with a focus on rural parts of the United States.

The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health in the amount of $25 million to be used at health clinics in rural areas, and another $3.3 million was awarded to a UCLA researcher who will study the effectiveness of using text messages to help people with opioid addiction adhere to treatment regimens.

“We’ll build up the infrastructure to get the clinics ready to test the use of medication and behavioral therapies so that we can conduct the study in as close to real-world settings as possible,” said Yih-Ing Hser, who will lead the research. “A second phase of the study will look at the use of telemedicine to help overcome treatment barriers, such as the long travel time it sometimes takes to reach clinics in rural areas.”

The funding will be distributed over five years as part of the NIH’s “Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative,” also known as the HEAL Initiative, UCLA officials said.

Hser, a research professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said the study will take place at more than 40 primary care clinics in five to six states. Specific locations have not yet been chosen, but potential states include California, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

UCLA researchers said they are looking at rural regions specifically because the percentage of opioid overdose deaths is higher and there is typically less access to physicians than in urban areas.

“This study has the potential to expand access to life-saving treatments for opioid addiction in communities that have been significantly impacted by the opioid epidemic and for new models of treatment to be sustainable even after the study is over,” said Dr. Larissa Mooney, director of the UCLA Addiction Psychiatry Clinic at the Semel Institute, who will co-lead the research.

Mooney said the funding builds on ongoing research that she, Hser and colleagues have conducted as part of the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Clinical Trials Network.

Much of the $25 million grant will be directed to UCLA, according to the university, and the remainder will go to collaborating institutions.

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