Mason awarded NIH grant to establish center for research on opioid abuse treatment

(Left to right) Bill Hazel, senior advisor for innovation and community engagement; Rebekah Hersch, associate director for research and development; associate professor Danielle S. Rudes and University Professor Faye S. Taxman, both are in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society, and leaders of Mason’s Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence!.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), has awarded $15 million in grant funding over five year to establish George Mason University’s Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network (JCOIN) Coordinating and Translation Center. Mason joins 11 research institutions named to the JCOIN.

“The team at Mason and our partners will provide opportunities to advance science and practice,” said University Professor Faye S. Taxman, who will lead the center. “We intend to break new ground in building the next generation of workforce scientists and clinicians.”

Rebekah Hersch, associate director for research development at Mason, and Danielle S. Rudes, associate professor of criminology and law, and deputy director of Mason’s Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence, will join experts from other universities as part of the center’s team. In total, 19 Mason faculty and staff members with extensive experience working with populations affected by both mass incarceration and substance abuse policies will be associated with the center.

JCOIN is part of the NIH Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative, an aggressive, trans-agency effort to speed scientific solutions to stem the national opioid public health crisis. Launched in April 2018, the NIH HEAL Initiative is focused on improving prevention and treatment strategies for opioid misuse and addiction and enhancing pain management. 

The center will be responsible for the management of logistics, engagement with practitioners and other key stakeholders in the justice and behavioral health fields, and dissemination of products and key research findings, NIH said in a press release. Mason’s Coordinating and Translation Center will also conduct research to identify effective dissemination strategies for reaching criminal justice and addiction treatment stakeholders and provide funding for rapid turnaround innovative pilot studies. An educational component will provide outreach and mentorship to researchers and practitioners working in justice settings.

“So many individuals who struggle with substance use issues find themselves in the criminal justice system because of their addiction, said Bill Hazel, senior advisor for innovation and community engagement in Mason’s Office of Research, and former Secretary of Health and Human Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia. “This work is essential to helping the nation find workable solutions to their unique challenges.”

Mason faculty will have access to pilot funding for new studies to support future grant opportunities, as well as opportunities to work on studies within the center or across other clinical groups.

The grant also provides for a three-tier, multiyear mentorship program for developing young scholars.

“JCOIN is an exciting research enterprise to address the problems of substance abuse among individuals in the justice systems,” said Taxman, who teaches in Mason’s Department of Criminology, Law and Society and is director of the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence. “At Mason, we will serve the NIDA-funded research enterprise to develop a better understanding of translational science, build new effective dissemination methods and tools, and test new implementation strategies.  All of this will be done in the context of educating students and clinicians who work with this disenfranchised population.”

Students will benefit from the JCOIN center through opportunities for mentoring and networking, pilot funding for studies with mentors and conference participation.

Learn more about the NIH grants.

Learn more about the Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network. For more information about NIH HEAL, visit