FAU tackles opioid addiction epidemic with research group

The project consists of dozens of researchers.


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Nicole Pujazon, Contributing Writer

Editor’s note | Aug. 10, 4:51 p.m. This story has been updated to reflect that the phrase referring to those who have overcome addiction and wish to help others do the same is “peer navigators,” not “pure navigators.” The term “addicts” has also been replaced with “people with substance use disorders.”

Opioid overdoses claimed the lives of over 60,000 Americans in 2016 alone, and FAU researchers want to lower that number.

The FAU Addiction Research Collaborative helps people with “substance use disorders” with the recovery process, as well as researches different treatment methods. Formed in 2017, the group has 42 faculty and staff members working against the opioid crisis, among other substances.

The members have four goals:

  • Help treat “diverse” populations, from the elderly to students
  • Research how to treat substance abuse disorders 
  • Explore pain management methods not involving addictive opioids
  • Study if patients can be reimbursed for the cost of treatment

Professor Wendy Guastaferro is one of those members. She currently teaches at the university’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

“Addiction is lifelong management, there are different triggers for different people,” she said. “What we want to do is understand how to identify those triggers to help with the recovery process.”

School of Social Work professor Heather Howard, along with Guastaferro, specialize in helping pregnant women and new mothers who struggle with opioid addiction. Guastaferro said that the group submitted a grant proposal to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund further research on the issue.

They hope to incorporate “peer navigators.” These are people who have gone through similar experiences and can better understand how to help mothers with substance use disorders access resources.

“We want to help these women navigate the different bureaucracies of getting better and different services that they might need, whether it be medical or social,” Guastaferro said.  

The members also research different non-addictive drugs for managing pain and withdrawal. Right now, while the opioid methadone helps people taper off drugs like morphine and heroin, it’s still highly addictive.

The group will be working with its community partners in the coming months to lower addiction-related relapses and deaths. These include Boca campus drug treatment center Life of Purpose and advocacy organization Rebel Recovery.

Nicole Pujazon is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet her @NicolePujazon.