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The National Institutes of Health Work to HEAL Communities Plagued with Opioid Addiction

by Ash Arjan

It’s well established that modern opioid treatment programs, such as medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs are an effective approach to addressing opioid abuse disorders. Other tools, including prevention outreach and Naloxone intervention, have also proven their value in addressing addiction and overdose crisis facing the nation. The current challenge for treatment professionals is ensuring that these various treatment tools are made available to the community in the most efficient and effective manner.

The National Institutes of Health, or NIH, has created a research program aimed at developing a standardized approach to optimize the efficiency in delivering prevention and treatment services, taking into account the available resources within a community. In addition, the study will factor in unique factors present in a specific community, whether that be geographical, cultural or economic. For example, in Massachusetts, there are currently eleven urban and six primarily rural counites in the program.  In New York, the split is 50/50, with Ohio and Kentucky nearly the same.  Within each of these counties, financial disparity, the social stigma of addiction, and the physical distance to a treatment location present real challenges to individuals dealing with opioid use disorder (OUD).

HEALing Communities Study

Information gathered from some 67 sites spread across four states will be used to develop a multi-tiered approach to addressing the opioid crisis, with the stated goal of a 40% reduction in deaths from opioid overdose over the next three years. To do this, the study, called the HEALing Communities Study (“HEAL”), will use the data collected to formulate a community-based system of change using three core components:

  • Community engagement
  • The Opioid Reduction Continuum of Care Approach (ORCCA)
  • Community-based communication campaigns

By using standardized criteria for information gathering, combined with community involvement and ongoing data collection, a process of improvement can be implemented to constantly improve the effectiveness of all facets of the local treatment and prevention programs.  The Opioid Reduction Continuum of Care Approach, or ORCCA, forms the action-arm of the program, working to assist local communities with implementing the recommended changes arising from the information collected.  The goals are lofty, yet straightforward; increase education aimed at the prevention of overdoses, expand the availability of Naloxone, identify and reach-out to at-risk community members to improve access to information and treatment. Finally, the program is designed to reduce the prescribing of opioids within the medical community.

Naloxone Accessibility Saves Lives

As communities grapple with the issue of Naloxone availability, HEAL will push for increased availability of this life-saving medication to be accessible to anyone who needs it, whether for themselves or a loved one, without prescription.  Initial studies point to ease of Naloxone access correlating strongly to a reduction in opioid overdose deaths.

Alternatives to Opioid Pain Management

In addition to the direct research into addiction, HEAL will also seek to address solutions for pain management that do not require the use of addictive medications.  With almost 25 million Americans dealing with chronic pain, offering these sufferers an alternative to opioids and their attendant dangers, will be an important step in preemptively diverting patients away from addictive pain medications.

De-Stigmatizing Addiction as a Part of the Solution

Finally, the study will work to develop a strategy to remove the social stigma associated with OUD, making it more socially acceptable to seek treatment for substance abuse issues. By redirecting the public perception of addiction from one of weakness to that of illness, OUD sufferers will be more apt to engage in treatment and, once in a program, remain in it until they experience a successful outcome.

The HEAL study is an exciting, ambitious approach to improving accessibility, effectiveness and long-term outcomes for those in need substance use treatment. For additional information, please use the link below, to sign up and receive updates as the study progresses.

https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USNIH/subscriber/new?topic_id=USNIH_112

 

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