WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - Purdue University is reaching across the state to help fight against the opioid epidemic, thanks to a federal grant. Fayette County, on the east-central side of the state, struggles the most with the opioid epidemic.
"When people look at numbers and say well it's only 18 in the past year, 18 is a lot to a community of that size," said Katrina Norris, Vice President of Behavioral Health and Addiction Services for Fayette Regional Health System. "That basically means that all of your neighbors have been impacted."
Norris has been working to bring all the stakeholders to the table in Fayette County to fight this problem.
"That's really the key in this crisis, is communities collaborating," she said.
So when Purdue reached out with a $1.1 million grant from the federal government, they knew this was a great opportunity. The grant money is going to the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering at Purdue for research. The money is coming from the U.S. Office of Minority Health as part of the Empowered Communities for a Healthier Nation Initiative.
Representatives from the Regenstrief Center have made the two and half hour drive from West Lafayette to Fayette County for various opioid task force meetings. Paul Griffin is the lead investigator for the research project.
"This is work we put together with Fayette County," he said. "The call was to help specifically with rural communities. It's worth it to make the drive."
He said they do not want to march into Fayette County and dictate what they should do, they want this project to be about what the county needs. According to the Indiana State Department of Health, Fayette County's average rates of fatal opioid overdoses is more than triple the state's average.
Norris said it has a major ripple effect into the community.
"You have poverty if you have substance use disorders, you also have poor physical health and so all of that impacts your overall local economy and ultimately your workforce, which builds your economy," she said. "So it's a circular pattern."
Griffin said they will be looking at how to reduce their high prescription numbers as well as helping them become more proactive.
"To help them better identify patients that might be at risk, to help them to understand and better refer patients to treatment," he said.
And ultimately, he said Purdue wants to be able to take what they are learning in Fayette County to be able to impact other rural Indiana counties struggling with controlling this epidemic.
Norris said she was blown away by the university's compassion to reach across the state.
"To say, you know, we are looking at the data we know this side of the state is impacted heavily and we care regardless of your location," she said.
Purdue will be working with Fayette County over the next three years.