HEALing Communities Study to Test Opioid Addiction Interventions

May 6, 2019
Four academic medical centers to measure effectiveness of coordinated systems of care

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are funding the work of four academic medical centers in partnership with local community-based organizations to generate evidence about how tools for preventing and treating opioid addiction are most effective at the local level.

The study is part of the NIH HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-Term) Initiative, a trans-agency effort to speed scientific solutions to stem the national opioid crisis. The opioid crisis is devastating the United States, with rural states and communities being hit especially hard. Provisional data from 2017 show that there were 49,068 opioid-related deaths in the U.S.—an approximate five-fold increase since 2000.

More than $350 million in funding will support the multi-year HEALing Communities Study to test the impact of an integrated set of evidence-based interventions across healthcare, behavioral health, justice and other community-based settings. The goal is to prevent and treat opioid misuse and opioid use disorder (OUD) within highly affected communities in four states and reduce opioid related deaths by 40 percent over three years. Each site is partnering with at least 15 communities to measure the impact of these efforts.

Grants were awarded to:

  • University of Kentucky, Lexington
  • Boston Medical Center, Boston
  • Columbia University, New York City 
  • The Ohio State University, Columbus 

The study will also look at the effectiveness of coordinated systems of care designed to reduce overdose fatalities and events; decrease the incidence of OUD; increase the number of individuals receiving medication to treat OUD, retained in treatment, and receiving recovery support services; and increase the distribution of naloxone.

RTI International, based in North Carolina, will serve as the study’s coordinating center, and will be responsible for data analysis, health economics research, and widespread dissemination of research findings over the course of the study.

“The evidence generated through the HEALing Communities Study will help communities nationwide address the opioid crisis at the local level,” said Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of NIDA, in a statement. “By testing and evaluating interventions where they are needed the most, we hope to show how researchers, providers, and communities can come together and finally bring an end to this devastating public health crisis.”