TCU fights Texas’ increased opioid use on homefront

By Grace Amiss

Texas may not be dealing with an opioid crisis, but rising trends in opioid-involved overdoses has TCU taking preventive measures to ensure it doesn’t happen.

Recently, TCU’s Institute of Behavioral Research was given a $4.5 million grant by the National Institutes of Health to address addiction and misuse among adolescents—a portion of a $945 million fund that was distributed across the nation to combat the opioid epidemic.

Principal investigator and associate professor of psychology at TCU Danica Knight and TCU’s Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development will be focusing on how to prevent opioid use among adolescents in the juvenile justice system.

“One of the most vulnerable groups at risk for opioid use disorders and overdoses are adolescents involved in the juvenile justice system,” Knight said. “Although per capita rates of opioid overdose deaths may be lower in Texas compared to other states, people in Texas are overdosing and dying from opioid use every day.”

In fact, Fort Worth Medstar responds to three opioid-related overdoses per day.

Caroline Albritton, the assistant director of counseling and mental health, oversees substance use and recovery services at TCU.

With young-adults being an at-risk group for substance use, Albritton believes education is the key to prevention.

“If we are not educating the public about the real and proven risks of substance use, we can expect to see the use continue to increase,” Allbritton said. “Continued funding and research are fundamental to increasing access to and resources for prevention, treatment and recovery.”

The five-year plan

Although TCU’s opioid use is below the national average—with reported use of opioids on TCU’s campus being less than 2% of the undergraduate population—grants such as this one ensure those statistics don’t rise.

The process will be carried out over a span of five years, focusing on constructing a comprehensive set of strategies that help families build trusting relationships and address issues that underlie their drug and alcohol use. They call this method the Trust-based Relational Intervention (TBRI).

  • Year one, the preliminary steps – learning about the typical reentry process, the family systems the youth are returning to and determining if the project’s data collection is feasible.
  • Years two-five, the primary study – training families on how to use TBRI, randomly assigning them to receive training only, or training with support, and conducting follow-up interviews for one year.

Patients make great strides while in residential centers for justice-involved youth; however, staff often notices some of the gains they make are lost because the parents don’t have the skills needed to support them.

That is why Knight and her colleagues believe the implementation of this project is so crucial to long-term success.

The impact

While combating opioid addiction is a large part of the project, Knight’s team will be looking at the full spectrum of adolescent addiction as well.

“[The adolescents] are in desperate need of adults who will support them in their efforts to stay in school or get a job and coach them on how to manage their emotions to make better decisions in difficult circumstances,” Knight said. “The hope [for this grant] is to transform relationships and prevent substance use among these youth.

Their efforts aren’t limited to Fort Worth either; they will also be working with seven juvenile justice facilities located across Texas and Illinois.

“Substance use can most definitely be progressive and baffling—no matter who the person using is,” Albritton said. “[It’s] a disease that shows no discrimination to age, race, socioeconomic status or geography.”

TCU students will have the opportunity to work on the research project as well, Knight said. Their efforts will not only impact the lives of the youth and families but will also contribute to the field of prevention science.