Background: Drug overdose deaths in the United States have continued to increase at an alarming rateThe United States is facing two devastating public health crises– the opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic. Within this context, one of the most ambitious implementation studies in addiction research is moving forward. Launched in May 2019, the HEALing Communities Study (HCS) was developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as part of the Helping to End Addiction Long-termSM Initiative (National Institutes of Health, 2020). The goal for this research was to reduce opioid overdose deaths by 40 % in three years by enhancing and integrating the delivery of multiple evidence-based practices (EBPs) with proven effectiveness in reducing opioid overdose deaths across health care, justice, and community settings. This paper describes the initial vision, goals, and objectives of this initiative; the impact of COVID-19; and the potential for knowledge to be generated from HCS at the intersection of an unrelenting epidemic of opioid misuse and overdoses and the ravishing COVID-19 pandemic.. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration distributed more than $7 billion between January 2016 and June 2020 to address the drug overdose crisis. The funds were intended to support evidence-based responses, including medications for opioid use disorder, and other prevention, treatment and recovery activities. Although the SOR grants support much-needed community level interventions, many of the services they support may not be sustainable.
Methods: This paper describes a statewide effort to support local entities through SAMHSA’s State Opioid Response (SOR) grants in Virginia. Our investigators conducted detailed needs assessment exercises with community agencies across the state, and collaboratively developed requests for proposals (RFPs) to sustain their SOR programs. We distributed the RFPs to prospective partners at universities across the state, and provided all responsive proposals to local agencies who selected the proposal most likely to meet their needs. Our investigators also conducted an inductive, three-phase content analysis approach to examine the RFPs submitted to the VHEOC to identify nominal categories of support requested of the academic partners.
Results: Our investigators received and coded 27 RFPs from ten community agencies representing four of five regions of the state. We identified six nominal categories of academic support with high inter-coder agreement. The six categories of support requested of the academic partners were program development and support, literature review and best practices, outreach and education, data analysis and interpretation, program evaluation, and grant writing assistance. Several RFPs requested up to three categories of support in a single project.
Conclusions: Our analysis of the requests received by the consortium identified several categories of academic support for SOR-grantees addressing the drug overdose crisis. The most common requests related to development and maintenance of supportive collaborations, which existing research has demonstrated is necessary for the long-term sustainability of SOR-funded services. In this way, the academic partners served as a source of support for sustainable SOR-funded programs. As the state opioid response program is implemented nationally, we hope that other states will consider similar models in response to the opioid crisis.