Dr. Rebecca Jackson: Healthcare Achievement Awards 2020

Laura Newpoff
Dr. Rebecca Jackson, associate dean of clinical research, Ohio State University College of Medicine; director, Ohio State University Center for Clinical and Translational Science

Healthcare Achievement Awards 2020

Trailblazer Award - Individual

Dr. Rebecca Jackson, associate dean of clinical research, Ohio State University College of Medicine; director, Ohio State University Center for Clinical and Translational Science

Over the course of her 34 years as an endocrinologist at Ohio State University, Dr. Rebecca Jackson has advanced research that’s improved people’s lives. Her focus has been on conditions that disproportionately affect women’s health, and her extensive clinical trials have sought better ways to treat cardiovascular disease and bone fractures

About 16 months ago, however, an opportunity came to immerse herself in the fight against the opioid crisis. As part of the National Institutes of Health HEAL initiative (Help End Addiction Long-term), the National Institute on Drug Abuse released a request for research applications for a national study that aims to reduce opioid-related overdose deaths by 40 percent in three years. Because Ohio is at the epicenter of the crisis with nearly 4,300 residents dying from overdoses in 2017, Jackson decided to pull a team together to respond to the funding opportunity.

“From a personal perspective, I felt so strongly that we have a moral imperative to address the opioid crisis,” she says. “As a land grant institution, there is a social sacred compact to ensure that we study health issues that create the greatest burden on human health and then disseminate the knowledge gained through our scientific studies to communities and others for the betterment of us all. There’s no greater public health problem than the opioid crisis, which has disproportionately affected the citizens of our state. We had to develop a response.”

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Jackson pulled the grant proposal together using collaboration. She built a team that included communities highly affected by the crisis, academic partners and state government through RecoveryOhio. She also ensured that the study would rely on data and evidence-based medical reporting to drive results and allow—much like in the startup world—quick pivots that can have a meaningful impact. The flexibility would allow communities not to be hamstrung by red tape.

Six months later she learned Ohio State was awarded a $65.9 million federal research grant that hopes to be a game changer in the way the crisis is approached. Three other university-community-state partnerships also were awarded grants under the initiative, resulting in the inclusion of 67 communities in four states, including 19 in Ohio.

Today, Jackson is actively part of the consortium of academic medicine institutions—Ohio State, University of Kentucky, Boston University and Columbia University—that are overseeing the HEALing Communities Study grant.

The heart of the opioid problem isn’t that treatment doesn’t work; it often does. It’s that effective treatments aren’t reaching the people who need them most.

As such, the study will focus on three areas:

  • Introducing a community engagement model based on “Communities that Care,” a nationally recognized program that provides the groundwork and assessments to begin and track evidence-based approaches to community health initiatives.
  • Implementing practices for immediate impact: While this is a study, the practices are geared to make an impact on opioid-related deaths quickly. This will be done by introducing and expanding the availability of the medicine naloxone and training around its use along with the adoption of medications for opioid use disorder. It’s also expected that services will be offered for those who are particularly vulnerable to risk of overdose and death.
  • Communication and media campaign: Programs will be implemented that reduce the stigma associated with opioid addiction, and there will be increased awareness about the practices, medications and programs that are available and can save lives after an overdose.

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According to nomination materials submitted by Ohio State, the research will produce a repeatable, sustainable prevention and treatment toolkit that can be disseminated to communities across the country. It’s expected the lessons learned from the study could help address other substance abuse disorders.

Phase one of the study involving roughly half of the communities started in January.

“We are thinking more broadly about how we take the science we are doing in the lab and using that knowledge to change the way we deliver health care for some of the greatest public health challenges that we have,” Jackson says. “By facilitating this translation of data to knowledge to implementation, you get the value of all the scientific advances that have been made over the last two decades to benefit society.”

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer.