New UK Study Shows Multidisciplinary Approach Successful in Curbing Opioid Use

A new UK study shows that a multidisciplinary medication plan may be key to treating those suffering from opioid use disorder | Photo from Getty Images
A new UK study shows that a multidisciplinary medication plan may be key to treating those suffering from opioid use disorder | Photo from Getty Images

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 27, 2020) — A new study by University of Kentucky College of Medicine researchers outlines a medication plan that may be a key to treating those suffering from opioid use disorder. The research was presented at IDWeek, the joint annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA), the HIV Medical Association (HIVMA), the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society (PIDS) and the Society of Infectious Diseases Pharmacists (SIDP).

“Our intervention is about linking patients with IV drug use associated infections to outpatient addiction treatment services,” says Sarah R. Blevins, a UK HealthCare pharmacist and the lead on the study, who has also helped treat those with Hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). 

In 2018, UK HealthCare reported 400 cases of endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart chamber and valves, of which 73% were injection drug use-associated infections. To curb overdose deaths, ease the financial burden on health care, and improve patient outcomes, the researchers worked with patients who need tools for recovery from opioid use disorder, such as mental health therapists, relapse-prevention services, and necessary medications.  

“All of this goes back to the issue of addiction,” says Alice Thornton, UK College of Medicine's chief of the Division of Infectious Disease. “We have to step back and see the whole person and the root of the problem.”

Kentucky ranks in the top five states in the nation for opioid overdose deaths, and this treatment approach may be a model for other states with large rural populations. Access to opioid use disorder treatment in Kentucky and much of the U.S. is limited. Poverty, unemployment, and legal issues are barriers, as well as transportation to treatment for those who live in rural areas — an issue that researchers say came up frequently regarding their patients. Limited access to clinics due to COVID-19-related closings has been a challenge to treatment recently.  

The research outlines a comprehensive program by infectious disease providers for patients who would otherwise be discharged without follow-up for opioid use disorder. The ongoing analysis by the researchers will include a longitudinal review of patient progress and outcomes, including hospital readmission and a study to determine patients’ perceived effects on their quality of life. 

“We have seen some really good success stories beyond just good health outcomes,” says Blevins. “When we hear about a former patient who has been able to reunite with their family or begin a new career, it’s rewarding.”  

In addition to Blevins and Thornton, co-authors of this study are Tiffany Stivers, Kathryn Sabitus, Ryan Weeks and Dr. J. Zachary Porterfield.


The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.