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Southern Utah University receives federal grant to help rural Utahns with opioid addiction

FILE: Southern Utah Hog farm trip / Milford. Photo: Greg Kratz

CEDAR CITY, Utah– The federal government awarded Southern Utah University (SUU) a grant aimed at helping rural Utahns suffering from opioid addiction.  

The university was given $1 million from the Health Resources and Service Administration dedicated to leading the battle against opioid addiction in rural southern Utah. Out of 116 organizations across the country, SUU is the only institution in Utah to receive the grant issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

SUU offers rural addiction support 

SUU plans to use the money to spearhead a pilot telemedicine program. It will provide substance abuse, mental health, and nutritional counseling to Utahns addicted to pharmaceutical opioids in four rural counties. The counties include Garfield, Kane, Piute, and Wayne. 

“In our rural communities we know that stigma, the need to stay employed, and raising your family keeps many people from seeking recovery services,” said Rita Osborn, executive director of SUU’s Utah Center for Rural Health. 

Osborn explained the program will assist “those who are addicted to keep their jobs, stay in their homes, and avoid the public shaming that often exists when receiving needed treatment.” 

A mix of private and public companies are banning together with SUU to offer addiction support and recovery. Aspire 365, a Salt Lake City-based company will provide counseling services. A California-based company, Scriptyx, will offer the technology platform for telemedicine counseling. 

Help from rural hospitals 

Additionally, three health care providers are in on the project: Kane County Hospital, Garfield Memorial Hospital, and Wayne Community Health Clinic. These three facilities will recommend patients for the pilot program. 

Hospitals in rural southern Utah are experiencing an uptick in ER visits due to opioid dependence, said Sarah Boone, a social worker at Kane County Hospital.

Because of the grant, “some of our Kane County residents battling addiction may be able to receive vital support that they otherwise wouldn’t have had access to,” explained Boone. 

The selection process for eligible participants will begin immediately. A total of 18 patients will enter the program. For more information about the grant and program, visit SUU’s Utah Center for Rural Health.