Addressing the Opioid Epidemic: Ending Transmission of HIV, HCV, STDs, Overdose in Rural Communities


Outbreaks of HIV, HCV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STD) in rural areas of the Midwest have been associated with syringe-sharing among people who inject drugs such as heroin and other opioids (PWID). Illinois is the third highest state in percent increase in death rates involving synthetic opiates. The southernmost 16 counties of Illinois comprise the Illinois Delta Region (IDR) and share many of the characteristics of rural areas that have experienced recent HIV epidemics. In order to develop effective means of disease prevention and treatment we need a deeper understanding of the context of injection drug use in rural southern IL, including community characteristics, circumstances for high-risk injection practices, and accessibility to health-related resources.

Project Lead

Wiley Jenkins, PhD, MPH, FACE

PSP Team Members

Allison Spenner, Trevor Thompson, Rebecca Bolinski


Co-PI: Mai Pho, MD, MPH; University of Chicago


There are two overall goals to be completed by the program. One is to investigate and understand how factors such as place of residence and local culture impact infectious disease spread and treatment among PWIDs. This answers the question “What new services are needed to reduce diseases among PWIDs, and how can we increase use of those already in place?” Two is to then develop interventions to expand services designed to reduce disease transmission, identify and treat those infected, and increase linkage to and use of addiction treatment and medical care. This takes the data and transforms it into action at the community level.




Bolinski, R. S., Walters, S., Salisbury-Afshar, E., Ouellet, L. J., Jenkins, W. D., Almirol, E., & Pho, M. T. (2022). The impact of the CoViD-19 pandemic on drug use behaviors, fentanyl exposure, and harm reduction service support among people who use drugs in rural settings. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(4), 2230.

Ezell, J. M., Walters, S., Friedman, S. R., Bolinski, R., Jenkins, W. D., Schneider, J., ... & Pho, M. T. (2021). Stigmatize the use, not the user? Attitudes on opioid use, drug injection, treatment, and overdose prevention in rural communities. Social Science & Medicine, 268, 113470.


Illinois Medical Universities to Study Factors Affecting Rural Opioid Epidemic - October 2, 2017
Federal Grant Aims to Reduce Opioid Deaths in Illinois - October 28, 2017