AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – A UMass Amherst epidemiology researcher has received a five-year, $2.6 million grant for a trauma treatment program for people struggling with addiction in the Franklin County jail.
Elizabeth Evans is an associate professor at the University’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences whose recent research focuses on the opioid epidemic, particularly among people involved with the criminal justice system. She says that trauma is an underlying cause of addiction.
Evans is partnering with several agencies that are part of the HEALing (Helping End Addiction Long-term) Franklin County project to improve the county’s response to the opioid epidemic. The program is designed to accelerate science-based solutions to the national opioid public health crisis.
Both Evans and Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan agree that public health initiatives are an effective way to deal with social issues that impact people’s health and well being, including substance abuse and chronic incarceration.
“Over half of the people in our jail have an addiction to opioids,” said Sheriff Donelan. “This is a community problem and it needs a community solution. These funds will bring together a number of partners to give critically needed help to those suffering from profound addiction. We are following the science closely and need to offer treatments that are shown to work.”
Evans will be the principal investigator of the project’s evaluation component. “Understanding how the criminal justice system collaborates with community healthcare organizations to treat people with opioid use disorder can reveal new ways to save lives and improve population health,” she says. “Lessons learned will inform how to improve health and safety in the region and in other rural settings nationwide.”
The grant will also support assistance for people with substance use disorder after they are released from jail. The Community Health Center of Franklin County and the Center for Human Development will provide staff to help individuals exiting jail navigate the health care system and support their transition back into the community. The Salasin Project will be contracted to provide peer-specialist support for women transitioning out of jail.