An assistant professor of public health at Southern will study the growing epidemic of opioid addiction – including heroin — in the New Haven-area suburbs.
The study is being funded by the National Institutes of Health, which awarded a three-year, $340,000 grant to SCSU’s Aukje Lamonica, as well as Miriam Boeri, an associate professor of sociology at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass. The two are working jointly on the project.
Lamonica, who specializes in social determinants of drug use and addiction, said the research in the area suburbs is one of three regions along the East Coast being examined as part of this study. The other regions are the suburbs of both Boston and Atlanta.
Opioids, including heroin, killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any year on record, and nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This is a growing societal problem in the suburbs with an increase of overdose events,” Lamonica said. “Most studies have looked at inner city drug use and that’s where a lot of the addiction services are located. But we are seeing an increase in opioid drug use in the suburbs, which is often devoid of these services. So, we wanted to see if we could help enhance knowledge and understanding of this societal problem.”
The grant was awarded last spring and work has almost been completed in the Atlanta suburbs, according to Lamonica. The research is set to begin next month in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“What we are seeing in the Atlanta area is that opioid users are from all walks of life, cutting across all classes, races and ethnicities,” she said. “When you think of drug addicts, people sometimes think of those who are hanging out using drugs on street corners. While some opioid users do, most do not, based on our early work.”
Among the goals for the study are to find out how people began using opioids and heroin; what happens to them over time; risky behaviors associated with their drug use; how often opioid use leads to heroin use, and vice versa; and a comparison of opioid and heroin use by race, ethnicity and gender.
Lamonica hopes to talk with 60 people from the New Haven suburbs, which is likely to include those from suburban communities that border New Haven.
(Anyone who is a current opioid or heroin user living in the New Haven suburbs and who is interested in participating in the study is asked to email Aukje Lamonica at firstname.lastname@example.org. Those accepted into the study and who successfully complete the questionnaire and interview, may be paid $40 for their time.)