TCU institute receives $4.5 million grant to prevent substance abuse

TCU’s Institute of Behavioral Research was recently awarded a $4.5 million grant by the National Institutes of Health to pursue the prevention of opioid abuse among justice-involved youth. Danica Knight ’90, associate professor of psychology, will serve as the principal investigator. The project will be conducted in collaboration with TCU’s Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development. 

“This is a historic project because it’s the first grant to utilize the combined expertise of the Purvis Institute and IBR, providing unprecedented opportunities for staff and students to be involved in NIH-funded research designed to positively impact the lives of justice-involved families in our communities,” Knight said. “We will be building an interdisciplinary team across both institutes. That collaboration and synergy will likely lead to many more creative endeavors like this one.” 

As the project summary states, although opioid use is higher in adults than youth, youth in the juvenile justice system are at a particular risk. This endeavor will test an intervention of 16- to 18-year-olds transitioning out of the juvenile justice system. It will involve families by training safe adults in strategies for empowering youth, developing positive social connection and reshaping behavior.  

It uses our Trust-Based Relational Intervention®, developed here at TCU by the late Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross [professors of psychology], to help prevent substance use and delinquency – two issues that are closely linked and are often the result of repeated exposure to trauma and hardship,” Knight said.  

She outlined how this project stands to have an even further reach than at-risk youth and their families: 

  1. It provides resources for the Purvis Institute to respond to requests to adapt TBRI® language and approaches so they are more relevant for older children. They will work closely with colleagues who are already doing this work in justice settings, learning from their experience. 
  1. It includes a rigorous study design that will help further establish the effectiveness of TBRI. This is much-needed in the prevention field because the new federal Family First Prevention Services Act requires more stringent criteria for an intervention to be considered “evidence-based.” 
  1. This project also has the potential to impact entire systems of care for justice-involved youth. Prevention efforts are much more effective when people across all aspects of the youth’s life (family members, teachers, probation officers) work together to meet their emotional and behavioral needs. 

Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH launched the HEAL Initiative earlier this year to aggressively combat the nation’s opioid crisis, funding grants such as this. The project summary submitted that an estimated 11.1 million Americans are misusing prescription opioids. 

This is a five-year venture, and Knight is enthusiastic to see how it unfolds to help many. “I am most excited that this project can transform the family systems of vulnerable youth,” Knight said.