AHRQ introduces grant opportunities to address opioid abuse disorder


In support of growing Federal efforts to reduce the abuse of opioid drugs, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has called for research to expand access to evidence-based treatment for opioid abuse disorders in rural areas.

AHRQ is making available up to $12 million to fund as many as four research demonstration projects to support implementation of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder in rural primary care practices. 

MAT is an evidence-based approach that uses FDA-approved medications combined with psychosocial treatments.

The Agency’s new funding opportunity announcement recognizes that primary health care settings may expand access to MAT in areas that lack access to community-based, specialty treatment centers.

AHRQ’s projects will explore and test solutions aimed at overcoming barriers to the use of MAT in rural primary care settings. Known barriers include limited continuing training opportunities for prescribing physicians, negative perceptions about people with substance abuse disorders and negative expectations about the effectiveness of treatment, and lack of social support services in rural communities.

Researchers may examine how online training for physicians, in-office practice coaching, and virtual counselling sessions for patients can overcome these and other barriers.  The projects will also create training resources to expand patients’ access to MAT.

Opioids, or pain medications, are commonly used to manage pain associated with injury, illness, or following surgery. Opioids include both prescription pain medications, such as morphine, codeine, fentanyl, oxycodone and hydrocodone, as well as illegal drugs such as heroin. Opioid users can experience a variety of side effects, including vomiting, severe allergic reactions and overdose.

Opioids were taken by more than 12 million people for non-medical reasons in 2010, resulting in 425,000 emergency department visits and approximately 17,000 deaths, according to a Federal estimate.

Data from AHRQ’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project showed the rate of hospitalizations related to opioid overuse among adults increased more than 150 percent between 1993 and 2012. By 2012, there were more than 700,000 total opioid-related hospital stays.

Data also show that the annual growth rate in opioid-related hospitalizations was greater for patients in rural areas (8.6 percent) than urban areas (4.9 percent).

“We are pleased to join other agencies in the Department of Health and Human Services to battle this growing national epidemic,” said Richard Kronick, director, AHRQ. 

“Expanding the use of proven treatment interventions in rural, primary care settings will play an important part in our broader national efforts.”

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Richard Kronick, US