MTSU’s Center for Health and Human Services receiv...

MTSU’s Center for Health and Human Services 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.

Center for Health and Human Services logo

The Center for Health and Human Services at MTSU, in partnership with DrugFree Wilco, has received 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 Health Resources and Services Administration is supporting the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program to address rural community barriers to access services for substance use disorders, including opioid use disorder.

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

Cynthia Chafin, associate director for community programs, Center for Health and Human Services interim director
Cynthia Chafin

“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

The planning grant will bring needed services, programs and dollars to Wilson County, organizers said. Some of the projects to be implemented through the grant include:

• Transportation for those needing treatment.

• Development of a comprehensive data dashboard to track cases.

• Enhancement of the existing Naloxone distribution program/

• Jail-based programming.

• Increasing the scope of medication-assisted treatment.

• Providing business and school education.

• Development of a stigma reduction campaign.

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto
Randall Hutto
Michael Ayalon, CHHS Wilson County opioid grant program coordinator
Michael Ayalon

DrugFree Wilco will be the conduit for implementing the program efforts. The grant also provides funding for a local coordinator to work directly with the county and Drug-Free Wilco as an employee of MTSU; Michael Ayalon will serve 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.”

Dr. Kahler W. Stone, assistant professor, Department of Health and Human Performance
Dr. Kahler Stone
Dr. Ryan Otter, associate professor, Department of Biology, co-director, Data Science Institute
Dr. Ryan Otter

Chafin is serving as lead principal investigator on the grant with community and public health assistant professor Kahler Stone as co-principal investigator. Biology professor Ryan Otter and the Data Science Institute are 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.

Dr. David Butler, dean of the College of Graduate Studies and vice provost for research
Dr. David Butler

“Research and service are part of the mission of the university,” said David Butler, MTSU vice provost for research and dean of the College 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.”

The Center for Health and Human Services facilitates projects, programs and research activities in public health issues of importance to Tennessee and the nation. It 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 at MTSU, CHHS supports academic programs in health and human services to support workforce development and promote healthy communities.

Department of Health and Human Performance logo

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 — contac Chafin at 615-898-5493 or, or visit the center’s website at