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ULM awarded $2.5 million grant for Louisiana harm reduction education, the largest award in a decade

The University of Louisiana Monroe College of Pharmacy received a fully-funded grant to provide harm reduction education to first responders and decrease opioid overdose deaths in the state of Louisiana. The grant is the largest award given to the University in more than a decade.

The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration awarded the $2,475,408 four-year grant to Dr. Alexis Horace, associate professor of clinical practice. Her research team includes ULM faculty members Dr. Oscar Garza, Dr. Stephen Hill, Dr. Jameshia Below and Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine pharmacology chair Dr. Stephanie Anderson.

The grant will fund a training program called ULM HERO, which stands for Harm Reduction Education and Referral for Opioid Overdose Reversal. Horace and her team will lead educational programs for first responders and community members in Ouachita Parish, Orleans Parish and surrounding rural parishes. Participating first responders will learn how to administer opioid reversal medications like naloxone and how to refer people who use opioids to treatment and recovery centers.

“There is a stigma with people who use opioids which keeps them from seeking help from first responders and also a stigma first responders may have with people who use opioids. This grant will bridge that gap and help people save lives,” Horace said. “This will arm our first responders with the resources to help guide people who are willing to go to treatment centers. It’s not just giving first responders naloxone, but giving them the information and a network to help folks enter treatment centers.”

Her first step in the grant is hiring key staff and building the educational curriculum for a diverse group of first responders with her team.

“The term ‘first responders’ is defined broadly. We have our traditional first responders, like police officers, EMS, firefighters and FEMA. We will target those organizations with our harm reduction education course,” Horace explained. “The second group of first responders are those that live in our communities. It is the person who is the first to respond to a scene. It may not necessarily be someone who is a medical personnel, but a friend or a family member.”

The ULM HERO program will also educate first-responders-in-training, as well as key community organizations. To reach citizens, Horace’s team will host 50 community events to provide risk reduction education in underserved communities.

“We want to provide people who live in medical deserts with education about opioids,” she said.

Horace teaches at the ULM College of Pharmacy’s satellite campus in New Orleans, where she leads a team of fourth-year rotation students at CrescentCare, a community health center. She said she was inspired to write the grant because of the passion exhibited by her ULM student-pharmacists who participate in CrescentCare’s New Orleans Syringe Access Program. They offer naloxone education and distribution alongside NOSAP staff who provide and exchange clean syringes to New Orleans community members.

“A student approached me and said she wanted to do a research project on addiction and syringe access. We began providing naloxone education and distribution at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and during that time I became very passionate about it,” she said. “Many of the clients and the staff have touched my life. The amount of thankfulness I see when people receive opioid education really humbled me.”

Horace’s goal is to provide education to 4,000 first responders in Louisiana by 2026 and to increase the program’s collaborations with local treatment and recovery centers by 80 percent.

“My team and I are ready to help our first responders in our community and make a big change in Louisiana,” she said. “It’s going to be used and it’s going to save lives.”