UK HealthCare

Leading the Fight Against the Opioid Epidemic at National Summit

Left to right: Dr. Sharon Walsh, President Eli Capilouto, Dr. Seth Himelhoch, Dr. Alice Thornton, Dr. Laura Fanucchi, Dr. Michael Kindred, Nancy Jennings, Mark Birdwhistell and Holly Dye
Left to right: Eric King, Dr. Sharon Walsh, Rep. Hal Rogers, President Eli Capilouto, Dr. Lisa Cassis and Mark Birdwhistell


ATLANTA, Ga. (April 5, 2018) – Few states have been harder hit by the opioid epidemic than Kentucky. Countless lives have been lost, families have been broken and communities have been ravaged.

That’s why University of Kentucky physicians, researchers and academic and administrative leaders joined nearly 3,000 experts from all 50 states at the annual Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit this week in Atlanta, Georgia.

Together, they are seeking solutions.

The annual summit is the largest national collaboration of professionals from local, state, and federal agencies, business, academia, treatment providers, and allied communities impacted by prescription drug abuse and heroin use. It was introduced in 2012 under the leadership of Operation UNITE and U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-5th).

“We all know the challenges. They confront our state in profound and distressing ways every day,” said UK President Eli Capilouto, who has attended the conference several times and returned this year. “The impact of this meeting and the agencies Congressman Rogers brings to the table with potential to fund breakthrough work in Kentucky underscores the incredible power of partnership and collaboration.”

Specifically, the purpose of the conference is developing comprehensive strategies and approaches to substance abuse. The need in Kentucky is pronounced. The state's rate of opioid overdose death remains above the national average, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting 1,419 Kentucky overdose deaths in 2016. 

The University of Kentucky and UK HealthCare are leading the charge in the Commonwealth, and across the nation, to curb rates of overdose, overdose death and infectious diseases associated with injection drug use and to help patients enter recovery.

For example, in a discussion – led by Mark Birdwhistell, Vice President for Administration and External Affairs for UK HealthCare and Dr. Seth Himelhoch, chair of the UK Department of Psychiatry --  two programs that aim to accomplish the goals of treatment and prevention were highlighted:

  • PATHways/Beyond Birth is a program that assists pregnant women with opioid use disorder (OUD) access obstetric care, treatment for their OUD and support services, from the time they are referred and in the two years following delivery. During a “vision session” at the conference, medical director Dr. Michael Kindred, program director Holly Dye and nurse navigator Nancy Jennings discussed how the program came to be and the direction it will progress in the future.
  • The Bluegrass Care Clinic, a program led by Dr. Alice Thornton, chief of the Division of Infectious Disease and medical director of the clinic. Along with Dr. Laura Fanucchi, an associate professor in the UK College of Medicine, Thornton discussed some of the consequences of OUD and the increased rates of injection drug use, such as increased rates of infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C Virus.

The Rx Summit also provided an opportunity for researchers and university leaders to speak directly with congressional and federal leaders, who are integral to turning the tide on opioid abuse, prevention of addiction and infectious diseases.

During discussions with Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse leaders from UK shared how they are leveraging federal research money to find innovative ways to treat OUD and associated illnesses.

During a conversation with Rogers, leaders and researchers shared the impacts their research is having in Kentucky and how they work across campus and disciplines to improve lives in the state.

 “I’m continually inspired by the work I hear about conducted by our researchers and clinicians in this critically important area,” Capilouto said. “We are studying problems. But, more importantly, we’re working together – led by Congressman Rogers and so many others – to solve problems. We know that, together, we are can change our Commonwealth and countless lives for the better. That’s the goal and dream of this conference.”