Experts Identify Key Questions to Tackle in NC Opioid Research Agenda
CHAPEL HILL – A collaborative process between academic and non-profit researchers and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has resulted in a prioritized list of research questions aimed at strengthening North Carolina’s response to the opioid epidemic.
The effort is a direct outcome of the NC Opioid Action Plan, which was created to identify specific, impactful strategies to reduce the burden of morbidity and mortality from the opioid epidemic in the state. One of the steps on the plan calls for establishing an opioid research consortium and a research agenda among state agencies and research institutions to inform future work and evaluate existing work.
“The opioid epidemic is an accelerating problem that we can only solve by putting all of our heads together to develop innovative research questions and methods. If this issue were straightforward, we would have solved it already.” said Tim Carey, MD MPH, co-director of NC Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute, which helped to lead the agenda-setting process. “It is heartening to see how much progress we have already made in identifying where we should focus our research going forward.”
A planning committee drawn from academic, non-profit, and government entities convened an all-day event, called "Developing a Research Agenda for Addressing the Opioid Epidemic in NC," last May in Research Triangle Park to brainstorm questions to support local efforts. Over 70 experts from a variety of research institutions were invited to participate in the discussion.
The participants of the meeting were asked to develop research questions that were impactful (would directly improve NC’s response to the opioid epidemic) and feasible (could be answered in the next one to two years). The discussion focused on four topical workgroups: Prevention, Dynamic Use and Misuse, Harm Mitigation, and Treatment. To help convey the scope for each workgroup, the planning committee presented attendees with a conceptual model that they had crafted for the event.
Planning committee members compiled all of the questions identified in the one-day meeting and then refined them based on the criteria of impact and feasibility as well as through consultation with outside experts. Their final list included questions like “What are considered good prescribing benchmarks for specific conditions?” and “What percentage of people with opioid use disorder currently initiated with prescription opioids versus illicit opioids?”
The ultimate goal of the list, and the larger research agenda, is to provide guidance to state and research partners on state priorities as they pertain to the opioid epidemic.
Planning committee members included the NC Division of Public Health, the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the Duke University Margolis Center for Health Policy, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Injury Prevention Research Center, and the NC Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute, the UNC home of the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical and Translational Science Award.