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Saturday, December 2, 2023

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Sabrina L. Smiley was awarded a five-year $5.2 million grant to address racial inequities in opioid use care. Sabrina L. Smiley was awarded a five-year $5.2 million grant to address racial inequities in opioid use care.

SDSU Researcher Awarded $5.2 Million Grant to Tackle Racial Inequity In Opioid Treatment

Sabrina Smiley is SDSU’s first recipient of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Racial Equity Visionary Award.
By Peggy Pico

Sabrina L. Smiley was awarded a five-year $5.2 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to identify and reduce racial bias in the treatment of opioid use disorders in California.  


This competitive award, Racial Equity Visionary Award for Research on Substance Use and Racial Equity  (NIDA REI), supports innovative scientists who propose new and bold research initiatives with the potential to substantially advance equity for underserved communities experiencing adverse outcomes from substance use disorders in the U.S. 


“My late father, Howard, is giving me a thumbs-up and a big smile. He gifted me a love for science, meaningful learning, and community,” said Smiley, an associate professor in the Division of Health Promotion and Behavioral Science in the School of Public Health. “I am honored and humbled to receive this award, which will save lives from opioid-involved overdose deaths.”


Smiley secured the award for her pioneering research program titled, “RESTORE: Racial Equity in Systems to Treat Opioid Use Disorder for Everyone.”  


"We are beyond thrilled for Dr. Smiley's remarkable achievement in securing this prestigious award," stated Steven Hooker, dean of the College of Health and Human Services. "This award showcases her extraordinary dedication to research rooted in the community, her innovative scientific methods and her pursuit in shaping the future of public health through equitable health strategies.” 


Smiley explained that despite the availability of effective, lifesaving treatment, most people with opioid use disorder never receive treatment. The program’s goals are to address racial inequities in opioid use care and to break down barriers to treatment. 


 “The RESTORE program aims to increase access to buprenorphine, an FDA-approved medication for opioid dependence. And, we will address how racism, not race, impacts opioid use disorder treatment,” Smiley said. “Additionally, we want to establish and sustain culturally grounded interventions with buprenorphine treatment within community health care clinics throughout California, focusing on Black people with opioid use disorders.” 


According to a 2022 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid overdoses in the U.S. have disproportionately increased among Black Americans. From 2013 to 2017, researchers documented an 18-fold increase in opioid use disorder among non-Hispanic Black individuals compared to non-Hispanic whites.


"By 2020, we observed a steady increase, with a 45% rise in mortality among non-Hispanic Black people with opioid use disorder. Minimal attention has been given to explanations for opioid-involved deaths among Black Americans," Smiley said. "Racial inequities to opioid use disorder treatment access and utilization are of significant concern because not everyone receives equitable care. Buprenorphine treatment is concentrated among communities with high percentages of non-Hispanic whites, higher income, and private insurance.” 


Along with her team of research collaborators and community partners, Smiley said she’ll use the award funding over the next five years to “dismantle opioid use disorder treatment barriers for Black patients seeking treatment in California’s health care safety net,” including clinics in San Diego, Los Angeles and Oakland.  


Smiley emphasized the award's significance for the community and future scientists.


“There is no one-size-fits-all to opioid use disorder treatment,” she said. 


“This award is committed to advancing racial equity in addiction treatment, and I am proud to be a part of a long legacy of significant contributions to science and medicine by Black researchers. I hope a younger generation can see themselves in this role.”