MTSU Receives $1M Grant to Address Opioids in Wilson County


A Middle Tennessee State University center and Wilson County nonprofit coalition have partnered to address opioid abuse and misuse in the rural communities of the Midstate county thanks to a $1 million federal grant.

The Center for Health and Human Services at MTSU, in partnership with DrugFree Wilco, has received the funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is part of a three-year grant that follows completion of an 18-month HRSA-funded planning grant to address the opioid epidemic in rural Wilson County communities.

The Rural Communities Opioid Response Program is supported by HRSA to address barriers to access in rural communities related to substance use disorder, including opioid use disorder.

DrugFree Wilco is a coalition of volunteers seeking to prevent and reduce drug addiction among youth and adults in Wilson County. In addition to that organization, the Center for Health and Human Services is working with MTSU’s Department Health and Human Performance public health faculty, its Data Science Institute and other on- and off-campus partners.

“I have continued to say for over a year now that while so much emphasis has been on COVID-19, we cannot forget that there remains an epidemic in this country — and within our own state and local communities — with opioids and substance abuse and misuse,” said Cynthia Chafin, CHHS associate director of community programs.

“At the time of our earlier planning grant application to HRSA, some counties had more deaths due to opioids than due to COVID-19.”

The Center for Health and Human Services has a lengthy history of working within local communities, including opioid-specific work. The latest grant provides an opportunity for the center and its partners to address the needs and gaps identified during strategic planning.

“I spent over a decade of my adult life as a resident of Wilson County, and have lost a loved one to opioids, so it is near and dear to my heart,” Chafin continued. “It is very satisfying to know that all involved in this project may literally be saving lives.”

Grant addresses treatment, transportation, public awareness

As part of the planning grant, needed services, programs and dollars will be brought to Wilson County. Transportation for those in need of treatment; development of a comprehensive data dashboard to track cases; enhancement of the existing Naloxone distribution program; jail-based programming; increasing scope of medication assisted treatment; providing business and school education; development of a stigma reduction campaign and more are part of the strategic plan that will be implemented through this grant.

DrugFree Wilco will be the conduit for program implementation efforts. The grant provides funding for a local coordinator to work directly with the county and Drug-Free Wilco as an employee of MTSU, with Michael Ayalon serving in that role as part of the earlier grant.

“We are so pleased to partner with MTSU on this important project,” Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said. “Wilson County seeks to address opioids in our county, a problem faced by so many Tennessee communities and throughout the nation.

“And we want to continue to support and enhance the work already being done by local law enforcement, the health department, local hospitals, treatment providers, and so many others. The resources this grant provides will greatly enhance those efforts.”

Chafin is serving as lead principal investigator on the grant with community and public health assistant professor Kahler Stone as co-principal investigator, with biology professor Ryan Otter and the Data Science Institute providing data expertise and support. MTSU graduate student Chipper Smith, a Wilson County resident and public health student, will be assisting with grant activities as he did with the earlier planning grant as a project assistant.

“Research and service are part of the mission of the university,” said David Butler, MTSU vice provost for research and dean of Graduate Studies, “and we are pleased to partner with Wilson County to address what has become a public health challenge for communities across the country.”

About the MTSU Center for Health and Human Services

The Center for Health and Human Services, through collaborative affiliations and partnerships, facilitates projects, programs, and research activities in public health issues of importance to Tennessee and to that of the nation, consistent with the mission and purpose of MTSU.

The center has conducted research and programming in all 95 counties throughout its 28-year history. Through collaboration with the Adams Chair of Excellence in Health Care Services, CHHS supports efforts to initiate and strengthen academic programs in health and human services to support workforce development and promote healthy communities.

For more information on MTSU’s Center for Health and Human Services and the  Rural Communities Opioid Response Program grant for Wilson County — or to learn how the center can help meet your organization’s research, training, or education needs — contact Cynthia Chafin at 615-898-5493 or [email protected] or visit the center’s website at The CHHS relies primarily on external funding for its operations and actively seeks internal and external partners to fulfill its vision and mission for a healthier Tennessee.

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