Kate Walsh awarded $4.2 million grant through National Institute on Drug Abuse

Professor Kate Walsh

Kate Walsh, a psychology and gender and women’s studies professor, has been awarded a $4.2 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse for a project that aims to prevent post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and opioid misuse among recent survivors of sexual assault.

The project, which researches the use of video and text messaging interventions in emergency departments, responds to the National Institutes of Health’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative focused on opioid use, also known as the NIH HEAL Initiative. Opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. have increased from 21,089 in 2010 to 80,411 in 2021, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. More than one in four women will experience an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, and PTSD and opioid misuse are prevalent after experiencing sexual violence. Now supported by the six-year HEAL Initiative grant, Walsh’s project aims to address these causes of opioid misuse.

“Intervening to address the root causes of opioid misuse, including violence exposure and consequent posttraumatic stress disorder, is paramount,” Walsh says.

Walsh and collaborating researchers from the School of Medicine and Public Health and across the U.S. have already developed and tested a nine-minute video delivered in emergency departments to women who are recent survivors of sexual assault. Compared to treatment as usual, the video was associated with reductions in PTSD, depression, suicidality, alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine use for groups of survivors followed over six months. In a second trial, a video incorporating mindfulness techniques also reduced opioid use among sexual assault survivors compared to treatment as usual for survivors with previous opioid misuse.

As part of the project supported by the grant, Walsh and her team will develop a new 12-minute video, Skills Training in Active Recovery, known as STAR, based on evidence from both previous videos to better address PTSD and opioid misuse. The video will integrate mindfulness techniques like urge surfing, which helps to manage urges and unwanted behaviors. Walsh’s team will also develop a three-week daily text messaging program called TextSTAR to reinforce the content presented in the video in a different setting and over a longer period of time. The video and text messaging content will be developed with feedback from sexual assault survivors.

“There currently are not validated and easy-to-access early interventions for individuals who have experienced recent interpersonal violence,” Walsh says. “However, approximately 75% of sexual assault survivors will meet criteria for PTSD and about 12% will report opioid use one month after assault. If this video is effective at reducing PTSD and opioid misuse in that timeframe, it could be made widely available online and thus could reach people who are looking for information but have not necessarily come to an emergency department or other organization for care. Similarly, the text messaging intervention would require minimal resources to administer as it could be automated and sign-up for the program could be offered online.”

More information about the NIH HEAL Initiative and the opioid crisis can be found on the National Institutes of Health website.


Written by Sara Stanislawski