What will it take to tackle our nation’s opioid epidemic, with more than 140 Americans dying every day from overdoses of prescription opioids and heroin? Money is important—federal and state governments are spending billions through Medicaid, the Substance Abuse Block Grants, and the recent 21st Century Cures Act. But funding is only part of the challenge. We also need more effective treatments and better ways to deliver services to those in need. In other words, we need a learning and innovation strategy to accompany and hone a treatment strategy.
For example, the most promising opioid use disorder treatment is Medication-Assisted Treatment that combines medication with behavioral therapies. But MAT is not widely implemented, and the quality of evidence supporting it varies by the treatment type, context, and population served. We urgently need a better understanding of how best to use MAT.
Moreover, because the mix of opioids that are abused has changed in unexpected and deadly ways, any single (or previously established) treatment approach is less likely to be effective. That underscores the importance of developing new approaches to treatment.