Pennsylvania is one of the states most impacted by the growing opioid epidemic, with one of the highest overdose death rates in the country — but a new initiative bringing together experts from across Penn State aims to combat this crisis through data-driven, evidence-based innovation.
The Penn State Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse (CCSA) will draw on the expertise of researchers, educators and practitioners from across Penn State. The group plans to develop and implement effective programs, policies and practices aimed at preventing and treating addiction and its spillover effects on children, families and communities.
The CCSA will be housed in Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute, one of seven cross-University research institutes within the Office of the Vice President for Research. One of the consortium’s signature efforts will be the strategic hiring of 12 new tenure-track faculty members over the next four years, who will bring additional expertise in this critical field to the University and lead the charge to research and develop data-driven solutions to this public-health crisis.
“Across the University, individuals have been working in their labs, communities and elsewhere to identify this epidemic’s causes, pursue solutions and address systemic substance-abuse issues,” said Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones. “As Pennsylvania’s only land-grant institution, Penn State has a vital responsibility to lead the way in fighting this battle. By forging connections across our colleges and campuses and working with community leaders, we can tackle this epidemic head-on and work toward a world free from the disease of opioid addiction.”
The CCSA will provide seed-grant funding for new interdisciplinary teams aimed at combating opioid and other substance abuse and sponsor an annual conference to bring together substance abuse prevention experts from across the nation.
“The faculty within the Penn State Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse will join with our current faculty to conduct innovative, interdisciplinary and translational research to illuminate risk factors for substance use, abuse and addiction; to educate their students and the public; and apply their knowledge to prevent and treat addiction,” said Penn State Vice President for Research Neil Sharkey.
The CCSA will be led by interim director Stephanie Lanza, professor of biobehavioral health and director of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Penn State.
A Penn State faculty member since 2004, Lanza has devoted her career to advancing research on the prevention of substance abuse through innovative quantitative methods. She has served as the principal investigator on research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Cancer Institute, and is an interdisciplinary researcher with an extensive network of collaborators both within and beyond the Penn State community. In her role as interim director, Lanza will be supported by the CCSA advisory board, comprised of representatives from Penn State centers and institutes whose missions encompass the systemic problems of substance abuse.
“Pennsylvania and the nation need more research into this troubling epidemic,” Lanza said. "I believe that the Penn State community can create lasting impacts through educating one another, our students and the public, and by undertaking research that advances evidence-based programs, policies and practices to better understand, prevent and treat opioid and other substance misuse and addiction.”
A national search for a permanent consortium director will be launched this fall.