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Justice and Treatment Leaders Will Partner in NIDA Opioid Initiative

August 01, 2019

The National Institute on Drug Abuse's (NIDA) latest initiative in criminal justice will seek to improve the quality of opioid addiction treatment in justice settings, with each research grantee required to partner with both justice officials and community treatment providers.

Ten research institutions learned in the past couple of weeks that they have received five-year grants to work on projects designed to extend the reach of evidence-based treatments for offenders with opioid use disorders. Tisha Wiley, PhD, chief of NIDA's Services Research Branch, tells Addiction Professional that the projects under the Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network (JCOIN) will mainly target jail inmates and individuals on probation or parole, given the importance of focusing on the high-risk early stages of these individuals' return to the community.

Wiley adds that all of the funded projects will have a medication treatment component. Given the strong evidence base for the three federally approved medication treatments for opioid dependence, “To not include medication would be unethical,” she says. Several projects, however, also will explore supportive services such as peer navigator services, or innovative delivery systems such as use of telehealth services in the community.

Project categories

Wiley says the funded projects generally fall into one of four main categories:

  • Efforts to roll out initiatives on a statewide basis. This includes an effort to establish specialized opioid treatment courts in New York and an initiative to make all three medication treatments for opioid dependence available across all Massachusetts jails.

  • Evaluations of supportive infrastructure. Components to be studied here include case management, peer navigator services and, in a project housed at the University of Kentucky, telehealth services supporting treatment of women in the justice system. That project is the only one in JCOIN focusing on services for one gender only.

  • Organizational-level activities, such as efforts to help organizations achieve effective community partnerships.

  • Comparative effectiveness research, such as a New York University School of Medicine project that will compare the effects of newer formulations of buprenorphine.

The grantees will receive an estimated total of $155 million for a five-year project period ending in July 2024, making this one of the largest recent criminal justice-focused initiatives out of NIDA. JCOIN is part of the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) comprehensive Helping to End Addiction Long-Term (HEAL) initiative, which was launched in 2018.

JCOIN comprises 10 research sites, a coordination center at George Mason University and an analytic resource center at the University of Chicago.

Evaluation component

Wiley, NIDA's associate director for justice systems, says all of the funded projects will be required to examine a combination of public safety outcomes (criminal behavior, recidivism) and public health effects (impact on overdose rates, substance use).

She adds that NIDA is seeking through this effort to be a better collaborator and in turn to encourage more and higher-quality collaboration at the community level. “The vision for JCOIN is to break down silos between academic research, justice and community-based agencies,” Wiley says.

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