Michigan County Looks to Genomics in the Fight Against Opioid Abuse

A new program there is armed with $750,000 in grant funding to look for answers in the assays.

Kalamazoo County, Michigan, hopes that genomics can help them fight the opioid crisis there. And a new program there is armed with $750,000 in grant funding.

Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (KCMHSAS), the primary recipient of the award, will work alongside Ferris State University College of Pharmacy and Genemarkers, a local testing company with a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA)-certified lab.

Genemarkers will test samples collected by KCMHSAS from those seeking treatment for opioid addiction. They’ll use a custom screening panel, and Ferris State researchers will assist in analysis. The program hopes to find insights to assist in medication treatment.

"Genetics play an important role in how an individual metabolizes and responds to medications, including opioids prescribed for pain management and those used for medication- assisted treatment of opioid use disorder,” Genemarkers founder and CEO Dr. Anna Langerveld said in a statement. The new collaboration will try to shed more light on how exactly genetics factor into dependency by analyzing searching for biomarkers to predict patient risk.

"With an opioid epidemic crippling many communities, solutions for improving prescribing, treatment, and prevention are greatly needed,” Jeff Patton, Director Kalamazoo Community Mental Health, said. His organization isn’t the first to look towards genomics to help. Earlier this year, researchers from Yale University, Boston University, and the University of Pennsylvania completed a genome-wide association study that may have identified a gene related to opioid dependence.

Michigan State Representative Brandt Iden commended the “patients who are brave enough to seek support from this program and others.” He said that opioid abuse is devastating Kalamazoo County, and expressed hope that the innovative new initiative could help fight back. Earlier this week, the county’s Board of Commissioners discussed whether to file a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical industry over the flood of opioids.

Many doctors aren’t even aware of the extent to which they’re prescribing the potentially-addictive drugs: A recent University of Colorado study found that 65% of emergency department providers underestimate the number of opioid prescriptions they write. Six months after being shown those results, however, they wrote 2.1 fewer opioid prescriptions per 100 patients and 2.2 fewer following 1 year.

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