The Center on Parenting and Opioids

School at home

The United States is experiencing an opioid epidemic of historic significance. Over 40,000 deaths from overdose were recorded in 2018, and the estimated economic cost in 2015 alone was over $500 billion. In addition, national-level data indicate that opioid misuse and fatalities are increasing at a particularly fast rate for women and individuals in child-bearing age groups. In 2017, the US Department of Health and Human Services designated the opioid epidemic as a public health emergency.

The Center on Parenting and Opioids (CPO) is a collaborative effort, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), between the University of Oregon and Oregon Health & Science University to improve the well-being of individuals, families, and communities affected by the opioid crisis. Within the University of Oregon, researchers from the Prevention Science Institute (PSI), Center for Translational Neuroscience (CTN), and Oregon’s Data Science Initiative, make up the multi-disciplinary team.

The CPO is working to raise awareness and improve the lives of parents and children impacted by opioid use by identifying the brain pathways and behaviors that are related to both opioid use and parenting. By identifying those pathways, the CPO can build personalized programs for families affected by opioids, helping them feel more successful and confident as parents.

When stay-at-home orders were first issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CPO was in the first year of development. In addition to typical web-based and remote procedures necessary to coordinate between UO and OHSU and community partners (e.g., website, video conferencing, web-based surveys), modifications to research protocols were critical to avoid major disruptions. The core research projects and pilot projects modified their approaches to working with families and agencies to reduce the burden and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Specifically, most of the procedures are now being carried out remotely, via web surveys or phone interviews. The CPO also now uses phone calls and video conferencing for meetings with community partners and focus groups with key stakeholders. Two examples of adaptations come from Project 2 and Pilot 2. Led by Dr. Beth Stormshak, Project 2 within the CPO uses the Family Check-Up (FCU) Online. FCU Online is an evidence-based intervention to reduce behavior problems and support successful development. Adaptations to the web-based intervention components are in development, and when ready, will be tested in rural Oregon and among mothers with young children. The delivery of the intervention via the internet will increase the accessibility of the intervention for these sometimes hard-to-reach populations, and also make it accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic when meeting in person is not a viable option.  

Pilot 2 is testing the Fathering Through Change intervention, originally developed for divorced and separated fathers, among fathers in recovery from substance use disorders.  The parent training program was planned to be delivered in-person, in small groups. However, when gathering in small groups was prohibited, this pilot, lead by Dr. Camille Cioffi and mentor, Dr. David DeGarmo, decided to deliver the intervention via text and coaching calls. Individuals who are assigned to the intervention now receive video links via text and participate in three coaching calls with a trained parenting coach. This approach has also allowed the study team to partner with treatment centers throughout the state.