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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – August 1, 2019 – Researchers from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine will collaborate with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the Durham County Sheriff’s Office to implement and evaluate two new opioid addiction treatment programs for people in the criminal justice system.

Dr. Evan Ashkin, professor of family medicine
Evan Ashkin, MD

Both of these projects are part of a new initiative by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that created a network to improve opioid addiction treatment in criminal justice settings. The NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) awarded 12 grants totaling an estimated $155 million to form the Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network (JCOIN) to support research on quality addiction treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) in criminal justice settings nationwide.

UNC will collaborate with the Department of Public Safety to link people in community supervision in Brunswick County to medication-assisted treatment via peer support specialists. Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of social medicine, is co-principal investigator for this project, which is funded under NIDA’s $10.8 million grant to Brown University.

“These projects respond to the fact that people recently involved in the criminal justice system are at extremely high risk of overdose and often have very little access to substance use treatment,” Brinkley-Rubinstein said. “With this funding we will be able to expand access to treatment and implement innovative linking programs to stem the rising numbers of overdose deaths in North Carolina.”

Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, PhD

“People reentering their communities face significant challenges to find work and a place to live and to reestablish relationships with their families and friends,” said Tim Moose, chief deputy secretary of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice in North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety.  “We want them to connect with supportive services in their local communities. Opioid treatment is an important way we can help them stay on a healthy successful path.”

UNC will also collaborate with the Durham County Sheriff’s Office to link people in the Durham County Detention Center to substance use and primary care services via a community health worker with the UNC-led Formerly Incarcerated Transition (FIT) Program. Brinkley-Rubinstein is a site-PI and co-investigator on this study along with Evan Ashkin, MD, a professor in the department of family medicine. This project is funded under a separate JCOIN grant to Yale University.

“The FIT Program has been successful in linking people coming out of incarceration with needed health services,” Ashkin said. “We are hopeful we can leverage our prior work in the community and with Lincoln Community Health Center to assist with treatment of opioid use disorder in this highly vulnerable and at-risk population.”

“As the maintainer of detainees here in Durham County, we look forward participating in this program where we will learn national best practices to expand the treatment for opioid use disorder,” said Durham County Sheriff Clarence F. Birkhead. “While we continue to work with a similar federal program with the Department of Justice announced in May, this NIH-funded initiative will go a long way to augment opioid addiction treatment programs for people housed at the Durham County Detention Center.”


Reposted from the UNC Health Care news site.

Media contact: Tom Hughes, 984-974-1151,