Stopping addiction, and the consequences of addiction, before they occur

The most effective way to combat the opioid crisis is to keep people from ever misusing opioids. For individuals already facing addiction, we also must undertake efforts to prevent overdose, infectious disease and other life-altering consequences.

RTI partners with federal, state and local government agencies; community-based organizations; and foundations to develop and evaluate strategies to prevent substance use and misuse. Our data allow clients to determine whether their efforts are effective and what modifications to make to improve their impact and efficiency. This research benefits not only the populations we study but also populations served by the practitioners and policymakers who apply our findings in their own communities.

Our primary prevention efforts often focus on community settings and youth in school. For example, RTI served as the cross-site evaluator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Strategic Prevention Framework Partnerships for Success (SPF PFS) and Strategic Prevention Framework for Prescription Drugs (SPF Rx). These grant initiatives focused on preventing opioid misuse in hundreds of communities across the U.S. Our evaluation efforts provided information on what strategies communities chose to implement to address the opioid crisis along with the positive impacts of the overall program. We also test the impact of local efforts to prevent substance use and misuse. For example, the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation’s Prevention Matters initiative funds strategies to prevent the use of substances, including opioids, among students in grades K through 12. For the evaluation of this initiative, RTI assesses strategy implementation and youth outcomes among approximately 83,000 students in 180 schools.

Communication is another critical component of prevention. Messages and public health campaigns help Americans make better decisions about the risks, benefits and uncertainties of opioids. Our researchers have developed and evaluated critical social marketing and public health communications programs for decades. This includes groundbreaking efforts on the risks and benefits of direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising.

RTI also addresses opioid prevention through the health care sector. We conduct educational summits and workshops to educate stakeholders and inform policy changes. Our research looks at the decision-making processes of primary care providers and pharmacists to better understand when they prescribe and dispense opioids for chronic pain. We have experts who support pharmaceutical companies in their efforts to develop safe and effective medications that are non-addicting or deter misuse. And we lead a cross-site national evaluation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention for States program, which assesses the implementation and outcomes of strategies used to enhance state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs and improve the ability of health care providers and systems to prevent prescription drug overdose and misuse.

Harm reduction refers to a set of evidence-based practices that minimize the negative consequences of drug use, including the use of opioids. Harm reduction approaches include syringe services, naloxone for opioid overdose reversals and supervised consumption services. RTI’s extensive history conducting harm reduction research includes observational studies to understand changing risk environments for people who use drugs, evaluations of innovative interventions and implementation science studies to improve the delivery of evidence-based approaches.