In 2015, the ONDCP announced it would spend $2.5 million to create a Heroin Response Strategy (HRS).
IRETA is privileged to work on this unprecedented project, which spans 17 states in the northeast region of the United States.
One of the major goals of the HRS is to establish and sustain an infrastructure that promotes information-sharing and teamwork between the public health and public safety sectors.
“Both law enforcement and public health workers are substantially involved with reducing heroin use and its harms,” said IRETA Executive Director Peter Luongo, Ph.D. “But they haven’t collaborated to the degree that they could. At this point, given the size of the opioid epidemic, I would say to the degree that they should.”
Leo Beletsky, a drug policy expert at Northeastern University, praised the thinking behind the HRS.
“This a welcomed development,” Beletsky said. “Traditionally, the two sectors have been collecting information in their own way and often doing it with different metrics. This program is focused on aligning this intelligence, sharing it, and using it to inform timely action.”
IRETA serves as the Public Health Coordinator in the HRS. Our role is to coordinate and advise the network of public health analysts (one in each state), assist with heroin-related public health data collection efforts, and compile regional analyses.
“We are focused on enhancing the timeliness and accessibility of overdose death data and other drug use indicators like EMS, emergency department, and naloxone availability,” said Dawn Lindsay, Ph.D, IRETA Director of Research & Evaluation Services.
“There is a lot of variation in terms of how accessible these data are across the states. We take an individualized approach in working with the public health analysts, and help them figure out strategies that will work best to improve the quality of the data in their state,” she said.
As the Public Health Coordinator, IRETA also interfaces with the HRS Public Safety Coordinator. The Public Safety Coordinator works with Drug Intelligence Officers from the 17 states to collect relevant law enforcement data.
The result of this work will be a functioning Public Health and Public Safety Network that allows real-time data sharing among decision-makers in a region that has been hit particularly hard by heroin use.
Between 2007 and 2014, there was a 340 percent increase in heroin-involved overdose deaths: from 2,402 in 2007 to 10,574 in 2014. Although the death rate from prescription opioids has flattened out in the last few years, the upswing in heroin deaths has shown no such trend.
“We’ve made strides in the area of prescription opioids,” said Luongo. “We’ve got better prescription monitoring programs, better prescriber education, and improved public awareness. But precisely because of that progress, we’ve got to take proactive steps toward dealing with heroin use. We know that if we restrict the supply of pain pills and ignore the heroin problem, we’re going to see many more deaths in the coming years.”
Members of the Heroin Response Strategy are scheduled to meet with public officials later this month in Towson, Maryland for a progress update and discussion of best practices in preventing and responding to heroin use.
Looking for more information about the HRS? Check out this piece from the Partnership at Drugfree.org.