More research on addiction and addiction treatment is critical to putting an end to the opioid crisis and other substance abuse. We need to learn as much as we can to win the fight against it—and until now research and treatment have mostly been done apart from the other.
While research on addiction and addiction treatment has increased recently due to the growth of the opioid epidemic, it’s taking too long to reap the benefits. The challenge of current research activity focused on addiction issues is that it can take a decade or more to deliver important clinical findings that can be implemented into real-world care delivery.
In the meantime, we believe in the creation of addiction treatment learning laboratories that coexist and are embedded into treatment and recovery centers. This would accelerate the translation of basic science discoveries into actionable treatment methodologies that then would be shared with and help advance the work of addiction professionals nationwide.
Program impact and research-based care customization
Most programs offer a variety of treatment modalities, but little research currently exists on the impact of these multi-component programs or determine how to customize care to the unique problems of individual patients.
Onsite learning laboratories where treatment and research is combined can add critical “putting-it-into-practice” layers to the investigation of the impact of different drug addiction treatments, for example, to get a better real-time understanding of why an individual reacts a certain way to certain programs, how these programs can be fine-tuned per the individual and what practices are best for helping them recover.
Additionally, because there is lack of consensus on how best to measure progress in treatment, it can be very difficult to make critical decisions about when to extend care or introduce a new treatment that is backed by research and data. As a result, the current standard of substance use disorder (SUD) treatment too often provides a one-size-fits-all set of services, or if treatment is personalized, it is based on clinical intuition without the benefit of research.
Use and analysis of data lagging
In other words, there is a significant need for real-time data collection to enable care that is tailored to the individual and how he or she changes over time.
Developing state-of-the-art clinical informatic platforms that can collect quality data on every patient at admission, during treatment, and for several years following discharge is the next critical advance in substance abuse research.
We believe researchers need the capability to be able to identify treatment outcomes and patterns, and in doing so understand the interventions that work best for individual patients and then integrate them into everyday clinical care. Being able to see if outcomes improve as treatment is modified will be a significant advancement in the addiction field.
Accelerating the integration of research
The nation’s leading healthcare providers must establish strong affiliations with addiction treatment centers and together, build collaborative relationships with major research institutions. We see this slowly starting to occur.
Two organizations I’m currently working with are engaged in this type of partnership: Northwell Health, a large healthcare provider in New York, is collaborating in a joint venture with Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research, addressing addiction in a modern way by aligning best practices in the same way Northwell addresses other illnesses like diabetes and cancer.
The advantages of these ventures include having access to the necessary resources that enable researchers to explore some of the more promising areas of addiction treatment, including mapping genetic profiles directly to optimize addiction treatment and expanding research on how genetic biomarkers can inform the use of medications. Other important areas of study might include imaging, neuroscience, precision medicine and comparative effectiveness.
Affiliations and collaborations can also help create the opportunity to study large cohorts of patients, and support continuum of care by tracking patient’s recovery and exploring new options for staying in touch with patients over extended periods of time.
Jon Morgenstern, PhD, leads addiction research at Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research, and serves as Assistant Vice President of Addiction Services at Northwell Health.