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New guides available to help communities respond to the opioid overdose crisis

The guides feature insights and recommendations from the ongoing HEALing Communities Study

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in collaboration with RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse has released two new resources: “Engaging Community Coalitions to Decrease Opioid Overdose Deaths” and "Opioid-Overdose Reduction Continuum of Care Approach (ORCCA).” 

The guides feature insights and recommendations from the ongoing HEALing Communities Study (HCS), a study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and SAMHSA to reduce opioid overdose deaths in 67 communities across four states: Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio. The guides will help funders, policymakers, service organizations and community partners identify and implement proven interventions for combatting the opioid overdose crisis. 

“The guides were developed in recognition of the need to center community engagement and evidence-based practices when responding to the opioid overdose crisis,” said RTI project leader Dr. Joëlla Adams, “The guides exist to help communities decrease opioid overdose deaths by sharing recommendations along with tools and real-world examples.” 

Engaging Community Coalitions to Decrease Opioid Overdose Deaths” provides guidance on building, and maintaining community coalitions that focus on the opioid crisis, as well as approaches for assessing how well coalitions are functioning. 

 “Opioid-Overdose Reduction Continuum of Care Approach (ORCCA) Practice Guide” includes a menu of evidence-based strategies for reducing opioid overdose deaths. The ORCCA menu has three focus areas:  opioid overdose education and naloxone distribution, medication treatment for opioid use disorder, and safer opioid prescribing and disposal. 

 “With these guides, we've merged evidence-based research with real-world application, aiming to equip communities with tools that can make a tangible difference,” added RTI’s Dr. Emmanuel Oga, principal investigator of the HEALing Communities Study Data Coordinating Center. “The mission of the HEALing Communities Study is to reduce opioid overdoses and save lives, and we believe that community-driven approaches backed by proven strategies are key. By sharing findings and tools, we hope to foster a more informed and cohesive response to this pressing challenge.”

Both guides include “Stories from the Field” that describe how communities navigated challenges as they worked to build coalitions and adopt evidence-based practices to address the opioid crisis. The guides are available on SAMHSA’s website and a new HEALing Communities Study dissemination website that will serve as a repository for products and publications related to the study. 

To develop the guides, RTI researchers recruited an expert panel reflecting a diverse range of communities across the U.S. and its territories. Half of the expert panel is affiliated with the HEALing Communities Study and included individuals with lived experience, social workers, medical physicians and harm reduction counselors. 

The HEALing Communities Study is an initiative launched in 2019 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The goal of the study is to test the immediate impact of an integrated set of evidence-based interventions across healthcare, behavioral health, justice and other community-based settings to prevent and treat opioid misuse and opioid use disorder within highly affected communities. 

Learn more about RTI’s involvement in the HEAL Initiative 

Learn more about RTI’s substance use research