Heller researchers to build online opioid resource

Tessa Venell, Office of the Vice Provost for Research:
I heard you’re solving the opioid crisis?

Cindy Parks Thomas, Professor and Associate Dean for Research:
We’re establishing The Brandeis Opioid Research Clearinghouse. The goal of this project is to set up an information hub for rural, isolated and other local communities to get information about other places that have innovative programs which address the opioid epidemic. For example, we’re interested in medically-oriented solutions and community coalitions that organize around prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction. The project is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, $330,000, roughly as a start. During the first two years, we're going to be looking for matching funds for certain components of the project.

Our vision for the outcome of the project is that public health officials tasked with setting up an opioid program can go to this website, get resources regarding current legislation, as well as share what communities are doing to respond. So it will be interactive.

TV:
What else are you doing to help make information more accessible?

CT:
The other thing we're doing is writing educational resources and research updates for communities. So if they want to know, for instance, what is the overall evidence for this type of program for recovery services for peer support in opioid use disorder, we will summarize the available research.

TV:
Why is Heller is so well-positioned to do this?

CT:
One of the foci of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is linking all of their efforts into work understanding and addressing the social determinants of health. They're talking about incorporating information that's helpful to housing authorities, for instance, and innovations that link across the different social services. So we will reach out to Disability advocates, we will reach out to the Institute for Child, Youth, and Family Policy. We’ll be talking to each of the Heller Institutes to find out what kind of information is important and needed to be made available.

TV:
What stakeholders are you most interested in?

CT:
Local health officials as well as local housing officials and community coalitions, and mayors. We’re defining our constituency and stakeholders pretty broadly at this point. So it's all communities, not just rural.

TV:
How did your research on technology lead to this project?

CT:
So the technology transfer component leads to understanding one particular aspect, the transfer of medical treatments as they are better understood, to those in the front lines in addressing the opioid epidemic. Over the last 20 years, we've learned that medications can really be a cornerstone of treatment for opioid use disorders, when historically it’s been treated in a very self-help, 12 step program way. Getting these new treatments into the provider community has been a challenge in rural communities. Half of rural communities do not have any clinicians who prescribe buprenorphine, for instance. So it's been a challenge to move this technology out into the field.

TV:
How are you finding working with researchers in other fields?

CT:
I was in a meeting this morning with the Lurie Institute and Institute for Behavioral Health, who are engaged currently in a collaborative process looking at opioid use and disabilities. They want to take a special focus on people with disabilities in rural communities, and I met with them to see how our work could dovetail. It takes a lot of energy across a lot of groups to make this work. I’m working with Gail Strickler, Andrew Kolodony, and Connie Horgan. We’re going to be hiring students to help us gather information, and help us write research synthesis briefs. That's later on. We're really looking forward to seeing this project up and running. Often with the work we do, we don't see results for a long time, but this project is really very focused on impact.