UT professionals unite to tackle drug abuse

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Julie McElrath | Daily Texan Staff

This school year, UT’s leading scholars from a variety of fields will work together to combat drug use, one of the dominant social issues modern youths face.

The Youth Substance Misuse and Addiction Pop-Up Institute, led by Lori Holleran Steiker, will unite a network of professionals to tackle one of the fastest-growing causes of death in the nation.   

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported in January that the number of national overdose deaths has been steadily increasing for 15 years and has reached rates of more than 50,000 deaths per year. 

“We’ve got more kids dying nationally from drug use than ever before,” said Steiker, director of instruction, engagement and wellness with the School of Undergraduate Studies. “It’s the most important work in the world, as far as I’m concerned.”

The Institute is comprised of more than 30 professionals and community members who work in fields ranging from health care to communications. 

The Institute meets for the first time today and will continue meeting several times a month for the rest of the academic year. Steiker said some projects initiated during the year may continue after the Institute closes next summer.

Heather Larkin, Steve Hicks School of Social Work associate professor and director of the National Homelessness Social Work Initiative, said the Institute allows professors who are normally separated on campus to meet and work together on one issue. 

“Our goal is to help make it a healthier world,” Larkin said. “We have so much important expertise and knowledge that can be applied to solving some of the more challenging problems of our time.”

Aside from promoting drug awareness via publications, on-campus talks and a website, Steiker said the Institute may plan a daylong conference at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center next May or June. Steiker said she hopes the Institute will qualify for a grant to follow up the seminar with a national conference to end the year.   

Steiker has initiated other programs to aid with drug prevention and recovery in the past, including helping found Austin’s first recovery high school, University High School, in 2014. A recovery high school provides a place for kids who have experienced addiction to return to after treatment and finish their education without fear of relapse. 

Though the recovery high school is independent of UT, it was created in collaboration with partners at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work on campus. 

The institute is not the first time the University has attempted to address substance misuse. UT’s Moore-Hill Residence Hall is designed to house students in recovery and those abstaining from alcohol, and $10 million of a $25 million donation by UT System Board of Regents Vice Chairman R. Steven Hicks will be set aside for education related to recovery. Aside from sponsoring community partners, UT is one of the only schools in the country to stock an antidote to opioid overdoses in residence halls said Lucas Hill, an assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy and participant in the pop-up institute. 

“I think at UT we’re proud to have probably one of the most progressive and recovery-oriented campuses in the country,” Hill said. “We recognize that even though Texas or Austin may not be the epicenter of substance misuse … we could lead change nationally.”