Criminal Justice Department awarded grant in partnership with Reno Police Department to curb gun violence and opioid addiction

Increase in gun violence and opioid addiction in Reno leads researchers to take action

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11/29/2018 | By: Lisa McDonald |

The U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance recently awarded the Reno Police Department two grants in which the University of Nevada, Reno Criminal Justice Department plays a big role. Assistant Professor Weston Morrow and Associate Professor Emmanuel Barthe are the resource partners behind a $687,000 grant to curb local gun violence and Barthe is the principal investigator of a $990,000 grant to reduce opioid addiction. Their roles are to assist with research, implementation of projects and evaluation of the grant.

The agencies have collected data on gun violence and opioid addiction in Reno, Nevada for years, but do not have the resources to perform the analysis.

"We rely on police data to come up with data-driven, evidence-based solutions - so we look at it and make sense of patterns," Barthe said. "We can look at geographical problem areas and how the VA compares to Renown in terms of prescribing rates, for example."

Current opioid situation in Northern Nevada

Reno currently has a big heroin, methamphetamine and opioid problem, which as Barthe explained, is all interrelated. Prescription diversion - a person getting someone else's prescription - creates addiction problems and leads to illegal drug use.

Barthe said Elko, Nevada has a big heroin problem that didn't exist five years ago.

"A lot of these problems start in mining towns," Barthe said. "Elko is a hotbed because miners have grueling work."

This grant will help engage problem patients who doctor shop, seeking heavy prescriptions. It will rank doctors based on suspicious prescribing habits and will identify problem pharmacies who are complicit in the prescription diversion process.

Some of this is tied to the more recent Dr. Robert Rand case - a doctor in Reno who wrote prescriptions to Richard West who then sold the opioids on the streets.

"There were a huge amount of pills flooding the streets of Reno," Barthe said.

Another part of this grant is an educational campaign where medical providers, patients and even students are educated on the opioid problem. Medical providers will be given reminders on proper prescribing patterns and of Center for Disease Control guidelines.

Opioid grant evaluation

The opioid addiction research is ongoing until June 2019. At the end of the grant period, the researchers will evaluate overdose rates (fatal and non-fatal) and look at whether or not those rates increased or decreased over time.

The last time the Reno Police Department and the University were awarded this grant, they saw a 23 percent decrease in prescribing rates for doctors who prescribed opioids. The group is hoping to achieve similar results this time around.

"What we hope to do with this current grant is not only to educate the doctors and community, but to educate kids on the harms of opioid addiction and heroin problems," Barthe said.

Reno's gun violence situation

Similarly, the researchers want to educate the public on gun violence. Since 2013, Reno has experienced an increase in assault, battery, homicide and robberies all involving firearms. Shootings have jumped 120 percent in the last five years. This grant aims to reduce that gun violence.

The Reno Police Department plans to include special enforcement teams and gang units to deploy programming around educating the public on gun violence. They will specifically target high-risk individuals and career criminals using intervention methods to talk to people before crimes happen. The department will explain to them the consequences of engaging in firearm violence and help them become more aware of the severity of crimes.

Programming to help curb gun violence includes license plate readers, installing cameras at some commercial establishments and a gun buy-back program to incentivize people to surrender firearms.

"We're trying to enhance public health and public safety by getting those guns off the street," Morrow said.

Assessment of local gun violence

Morrow and Barthe will be assessing the intervention efforts of the Reno Police Department.

"What we want to be able to say with a fair amount of certainty is the number of incidents related to firearm related crimes before the implementation have decreased from the number of incidents after the implementation," Morrow said. "Ideally, we want to see a reduction afterwards."

Related Academic Program

Both pieces of the grant not only aim to educate the public, but also enhance the partnership between local agencies like the Reno Police Department and the University of Nevada, Reno. The Criminal Justice Department has had a long-standing relationship with local law enforcement agencies, and this grant reinforces the working relationship.

"The University brings a quantitative view of this problem that the agencies can rely on and then they can apply for their own grants based on our research," Barthe said.

In addition, this grant has helped to fund graduate student assistance. Deena DeVore is earning her master's degree in criminal justice and helping Barthe with the opioids research.

"It allows the students to work with real researchers and all the research Dr. Barthe does has been driven by practical situations," DeVore said. "We wouldn't get this in the classroom setting."

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