Although evidence from health policy research should inform policymaking, researchers and policymakers don’t always communicate. A conference sponsored by the Center for Health Economics of Treatment Interventions for Substance Use Disorder, HCV, and HIV (CHERISH) – a NIDA-funded Center of Excellence – and hosted by the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics (LDI) sought to close this gap… if even for a day.
Substance Use Disorder in America: Research to Practice, and Back Again brought researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders together to discuss evidence-based approaches to address substance use disorder and the opioid epidemic in America. Specifically, the conference was designed to improve the translation of current research for policy stakeholders and to inform future research so that it can be responsive to policymakers’ needs.
Despite the wide acceptance of evidence-based practice by medical professionals, research is rarely a part of the decisions made by policymakers. Instead, policymakers often rely on intuition, ideology, or conventional wisdom. Noting that policymakers most often credit in-person relationships with researchers as the most influential factor in determining the use of research evidence, the conference stressed the importance of establishing these networks. Early engagement with policymakers can help researchers identify meaningful research questions, and encourage researchers to become a part of the translation from evidence to policy and practice. These relationships can help policymakers consider the evidence as they try to make the best use of scarce resources. Ultimately, personal relationships are key to closing the gap and establishing evidence-based policy and practice, particularly in curbing substance use disorders and the opioid epidemic.
The conference wasted no time putting these connections to the test. Throughout the conference, researchers, policymakers, and clinicians were challenged to work together to come up with feasible strategies to curb the opioid epidemic. In an afternoon exercise, small, mixed groups of attendees reacted to a scenario in which a young patient died of an overdose despite repeated encounters with the health system. The scenario highlighted gaps in treatment, follow-up, and coordination. The groups identified evidence-based strategies for addressing these issues, and came back together to present their ideas to the larger group. In a post-conference survey, attendees ranked the most promising and feasible ideas within four categories, as shown below: