$1M grant to be used to develop national models for fighting opioid epidemic

NEWS RELEASE: Bill Bangert, Public Information Officer (Edited for Loveland Beacon by Chuck Gibson)

CINCINNATI, OH (April 13, 2020) – A three-year, $1 million grant is being used by Jennifer Lanzillotta of the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing to implement evidence-based practices and develop potential models for communities for use in the fight against the opioid epidemic. 

Jennifer Lanzillotta and Tasha Turner-Bicknell of the UC College of Nursing during their poster presentation at the March RCORP meeting in DC (Provided) 

Lanzillotta is implementing the grant in one of the areas hit hardest by the opioid crisis, Highland County, Ohio.

The grant comes via the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, a multiyear initiative supported by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to address barriers to access in rural communities related to substance use disorder, including opioid use disorder (OUD). With this funding, UC’s Lanzillotta helped launch the Highland County Collaborative Opioid Response Implementation Project (or CORE) in the fall of 2019. She says the project’s goal is to build an infrastructure to transform OUD in an at-risk medically underserved community.

“Through the CORE planning grant we identified several gaps in the community in prevention, recovery and treatment services,” said Lanzillotta. “We are trying to address those gaps by bringing entities together in partnership and coordinating care; leveraging state, federal and local resources; increasing access to care for those suffering from OUD and decreasing fatalities through naloxone distribution.” 

Lanzillotta works as a certified registered nurse anesthesiologist at Highland District Hospital (HDH) in Hillsboro, Ohio, about 60 miles east of Cincinnati. People living in this area are predominantly of Appalachian descent, a population that has seen a steady increase in substance abuse for the past two decades and continues to experience higher rates of OUD and overdose deaths than non-Appalachian areas. Highland County is ranked No. 196 on the list of the top 220 counties nationwide identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as being at risk for HIV and hepatitis C infections due to injection drug use. The hepatitis C infection rate in the county increased more than 100% from 2010 to 2015, and continues to rise each year.


CORE features three members in addition to the UC College of Nursing: the Highland County Health Department, REACH for Tomorrow and HDH, with each group having individual leaders on their project team. Lanzillotta says they meet on a regular basis and each representative goes back to their specific organization and implements the plans that are made.

Highland County North Joint Fire and Ambulance District assistant chief Erica Miller-Hurless at the Leesburg Station, a naloxone training and distribution location. (Provided)

REACH for Tomorrow, which stands for “restoring, educating, advocating, collaborating and hope,” is a faith-based, community behavioral health nonprofit with a mission of bringing restoration to individuals, families and the community through a variety of counseling services. In the CORE project, the organization works with the Highland County Health Department to obtain and distribute naloxone kits. It also partners with Highland County Quick Response Teams (HCQRT) to connect all known overdose patients to treatment.

The HCQRT is a confidential service that assesses a person’s physical and mental health, support systems and legal status. It also offers recovery and sober living options while connecting persons to treatment to eliminate causes of abuse and promotes community-based clinical intervention.


Lanzillotta was recruited to work at HDH by Meghan Johnson,  a clinical faculty member in UC’s nurse anesthesia program and who is a recipient of the 2020 Florence Nightingale Award for Excellence in Nursing, presented by the UC College of Nursing. Other UC researchers assisting Lanzillotta in this project include Joe Perazzo, Angela Clark and Tasha Turner-Bicknell.

In all, the Health Resources and Services Administration implemented 100 grants to groups across the country that run through the end of September 2022. The grantees recently met at a conference held in March 2020 in Washington, D.C., “Rural Communities Opioid Response Program 2020: Addressing the Opioid Crisis Through Sustainable Community Action.” More than 600 people attended, including people from implementation, planning and medically assisted therapy groups.

“This conference provided a forum to share ideas, successes, innovative new processes and lessons learned,” Lanzillotta said. “It is a great way to network with other grant recipients across the country. It is also good to know that you are not facing these challenges alone.”

Lanzillotta says one of the biggest challenges of this ambitious project is changing mindsets and perceptions of people with OUD.

“I think the biggest thing we can do is get out knowledge about the disease of addiction so that people understand it’s a disease of the brain,” she said. “It’s just like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease — it’s a chronic relapsing disease. Once people understand that, then you can start talking to them about what kind of treatments work, why they work and how to help people with this disorder.”

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