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Treatment Data: The Linchpin of the New National Treatment Plan for Substance Use Disorder

Successful implementation of the new ONDCP plan centers upon RTI’s findings that improving access and quality addiction treatment requires a data-driven systems approach


The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) new National Treatment Plan for Substance Use Disorder underscores the critical deficits that characterize the United States’ addiction treatment system. The plan describes a robust strategy for moving to a patient-centered, accessible, efficient, and high-quality addiction treatment system that would address the factors that have prevented more than 17.5 million people from receiving the treatment they need. As an organization committed to improving the human condition, RTI International has been working on many of the important initiatives ONDCP outlined in its plan since the early onslaught of the crisis.

We believe that to improve the quality of addiction treatment, it is essential to address the system’s information voids. RTI routinely collaborates with federal, state, and nonprofit partners to “improve the uniformity, quality, range, and timeliness of treatment data” [Pillar 1, Focus Area 5]. Through initiatives like the National Institutes of Health’s HEALing Communities Study, the Centers for Disease Control’s evaluation on the impact of federal and state laws that influence the use of medication for treating opioid use disorder, and our partnership with Shatterproof to create a user-friendly tool that will help people with finding quality addiction treatment, we have seen firsthand the immense impact data can have.

RTI has been proactively developing solutions to improve addiction treatment using a data-driven systems approach over the past few years. Governments have a vast array of valuable data, including patient clinical assessments collected to satisfy block grant requirements, claims data for payment, program administration data, and complaint data submitted to regulatory agencies. But too often it’s left sitting, untapped by patients, providers, and policymakers. We have been working to correct this problem.

We are helping systems transform data to create learning health care systems—a goal that the Institute of Medicine has called for in behavioral health for over two decades. A transparent learning health care system ensures that information on treatment slot openings is disseminated in real time. It provides feedback on whether patients are making the transition into care and receiving quality treatment across the care continuum. It allows consumers to see which providers offer evidence-based, patient-centered treatment, and it lets patients, providers, and payers know their chances for recovery. All of this can be accomplished by leveraging data and analytics.

ONDCP’s vision aligns well with our ongoing, evidence-based quality treatment efforts and with what we’ve seen and known to be successful. However, a stumbling block for turning this vision into a reality is a lack of dedicated investment in behavioral health data and technology infrastructure. Most of the SUPPORT Act funding has flowed into immediate treatment needs—namely, getting naloxone and buprenorphine into communities.

Though funding has been critical, it does not go far enough. To address new emerging epidemics, such as stimulants, and to improve the quality of addiction treatment in the long run, we need to invest in building a learning health care system. We need to invest in transforming data. It is the only way we can rapidly scale up quality treatment and connect those with substance use disorder with the care they need.

We are excited by the vision ONDCP’s outlined in this new plan and are working hard to bring it to life. Learn more about RTI’s extensive work in addiction treatment to see where we’ve begun to address ONDCP’s areas of focus to close the treatment gap.

Tami Mark
Tami Mark

Tami Mark, PhD, MBA

Senior Director, Behavioral Health Financing and Quality Measurement

Tami L. Mark, PhD, is an internationally known health economist and expert on behavioral health care financing and delivery. Dr. Mark collaborates with Federal and state agencies to improve their behavioral health treatment systems through research, data analytics, technical assistance, and policy development. Currently, she is leading an effort with the Shatterproof Foundation to create an addiction program quality measurement system.

Disclaimer: This piece was written by Tami Mark (Distinguished Fellow, Behavioral Health Financing and Quality Measurement) to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.