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Addiction Health Services Research Conference 2017

Patients, Populations, and Processes: Multidisciplinary Approaches to Addiction Health Services Improvement

Maureen Fitzgerald
ATTC Network Coordinating Office 

Each year since 2005, the Addiction Health Services Research (AHSR) Conference has brought researchers and policymakers together to present their latest findings on health services as they apply to substance use disorder treatment and recovery. The conference is hosted by a different institution each year, typically home to an investigator who is active in addiction health services research.

AHSR 2017, held at the Monona Terrace in Madison, WI, was hosted by Dr. Randy BrownAndy Quanbeck, Ph.D., and Bri Deyo, MPH, of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

"AHSR is a great opportunity to learn about what other people are doing, discuss shared interests, and explore potential areas for collaboration,” explains Brown. “The focus is really on enhancing the effectiveness of systems-level interventions, policy, and what works in the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders.”

A national planning committee of volunteer researchers provides guidance on the event. This committee also reviews abstracts for oral presentations and posters. The 2017 conference drew approximately 145 abstracts from researchers across the US and Canada. In an attempt to include as many topics as possible, the submissions that were not selected for oral presentation were offered the opportunity to present a poster instead.

“The majority of attendees are researchers, but much of what is presented applies to the work done by policymakers and managers of clinical services,” adds Brown.

" A major highlight of the conference was a plenary talk by Kimberly Johnson from CSAT, who emphasized the important role of the ATTCs in bridging research and practice. I look forward to continuing to attend this valuable conference and our ATTC has already committed to helping host the conference in 2020!” 
Sara Becker, Project Director, New England ATTC

The national planning committee also helped to secure plenary speakers for the conference. Plenary speakers included Dr. Carlos Blanco, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. H. Westley Clark, former Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment(CSAT), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Dr. David Gustafson, Director, Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies and NIATx, and Dr. Kimberly Johnson, Director of CSAT. Rounding out the plenary lineup were Dr. Michael Fleming of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Dr. Constance Weisner of the Kaiser Permanente Research Division and the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.

Many of the 2017 AHSR presentations shared findings related to the opioid epidemic, with an emphasis on facilitating and improving the use of evidence-based prevention and treatment practices. “There was a strong focus on optimizing access to care that works, in particular for under-represented populations,” says Brown.  

The conference location in Madison was convenient for NIATx researchers to attend or present at the event. (See related story from the NIATx E-news.)

ATTC Network Presentations

Sara Becker, Project Director of the New England ATTC, has been attending AHSR since 2012 and has served on the National Planning Committee for the past three years. In the research poster session, Dr. Becker shared a poster titled "Technology-Assisted Intervention for Parents of Adolescents in Residential Treatment: Development and Open Trial Results." The poster described a technology-assisted intervention for parents that she developed and is currently testing as part of a NIDA-funded treatment development study. 

“AHSR is without a doubt my favorite annual conference,” says Becker. “I appreciate the relatively small size and the specialized focus on addiction health services, which includes the important training and technical assistance work being done by our ATTC Network. For the past few years, there has been significant ATTC presence at the conference and this year our colleagues at the Great Lakes ATTC played a significant role in conference coordination. A major highlight of the conference was a plenary talk by Kimberly Johnson from CSAT, who emphasized the important role of the ATTCs in bridging research and practice. I look forward to continuing to attend this valuable conference and our ATTC has already committed to helping host the conference in 2020!” 

Todd Molfenter, Director of the Great Lakes ATTC, participated in the Dissemination and Implementation Research breakout session. Molfenter’s session, “Test of a Payer/Treatment Agency Model to Increase Implementation of Buprenorphine for Opiate Addiction,” described how the payers’ role in fighting the opioid epidemic goes beyond providing funds to pay for opioid treatment pharmacotherapy. Data and examples were provided on how payer and providers collaborated to build opioid treatment pharmacotherapy capacity in the state of Ohio.

Bryan Garner, Implementation Specialist for the Network Coordinating Office, also presented in the Dissemination and Implementation Research track. Garner gave two presentations and presented one poster. The first presentation was titled “The Substance Abuse Treatment to HIV Care (SAT2HIV) Project: Preliminary Findings on the Effectiveness of Implementation and Sustainment Facilitation.” Results suggest that the Implementation and Sustainment Facilitation (ISF) strategy, which is a multifaceted implementation strategy, significantly improved the ATTC implementation strategy’s ability to help staff deliver a motivational interviewing-based brief intervention for substance use with consistency and quality (i.e., implementation effectiveness). 

The second presentation was titled “The Substance Abuse Treatment to HIV Care (SAT2HIV) Project: Preliminary findings on the effectiveness of a motivational interviewing-based brief intervention.” Results suggest that the project’s motivational interviewing-based brief intervention for substance use intervention significantly reduced clients substance-related problems.

Garner's poster was titled “Does the Implementation of Evidence-Based and Culturally Competent Practices Reduce Disparities in Addiction Treatment Outcomes?” As part of an examination of the use of contingency management treatment, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and cultural competence in Mexican Americans and non-Latino whites, Garner and colleagues found that Mexican Americans were more likely to complete treatment with high implementation of MAT, compared to non-Latino whites. Intriguingly, this study also found high implementation of cultural competence skills had little impact on Mexican American treatment outcomes.

2017 Investigator Awards

This year’s conference also recognized early career researchers, and new to AHSR in 2017, researchers from under-represented populations. The awards, funded by NIDA and the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, cover the conference registration fee and travel expenses.

Early Career Investigator Award 

Carroline LoboUniversity of Pittsburgh, received the Early Career Investigator Award for her oral presentation and poster, “Using Unsupervised Clustering to Identify Potentially Problematic Opioid Use in Medicare.”

Lobo’s project, part of her dissertation research, sought to identify patterns of prescription opioid use in the fee-for-service Medicare Part D population in Pennsylvania.

“I was interested in finding what constitutes overutilization of prescription opioids in the Medicare population,” explains Lobo. “My study found that beneficiaries who could potentially qualify as doctor or pharmacy shoppers had complex healthcare needs. The definitions of “overutilization” that are currently used may not provide a complete picture of a person’s health status. It may be important to take a step back and look at a person’s overall health picture, not just their prescription-fill characteristics (e.g., number of unique opioid prescribers, number of unique pharmacies where opioids were dispensed) before assigning them to interventions such as lock-in programs.”  

Lobo defended her dissertation shortly after the AHSR conference and looks forward to conducting future research focused on Big Data analytics to study health care utilization patterns.  

The highlight of the conference for Lobo, a first-time attendee, was meeting the many well-known researchers in health sciences field and getting feedback from them on her work. She plans to submit an abstract and attend the AHSR conference next year.

Under-Represented Investigator Awards

Megan Dickson, PhDUniversity of Kentucky Center on Drug and Alcohol Research (CDAR), received an Under Represented Investigator Award for the poster, “Barriers to Health Care and the Affordable Care Act Among Rural, Drug-using Appalachian Women.”

“The ACA opened up a lot of opportunities for health care in rural communities, drug offenders, and incarcerated individuals. I think it is important to look at all of these populations in weighing the pros and cons of health care legislation.”
Megan Dickson, PhD, University of Kentuck Center on Drug and Alcohol Research

“My study examined the relationship between health care barriers, health care coverage, and the Affordable Care Actamong rural, drug-using women, revealing that participants released from jail following the ACA experienced fewer barriers, such as cost, when seeking needed health services,” says Dickson. “Further, women who experienced health care cost as a barrier were more likely to face additional barriers when seeking health services, suggesting important, ACA-related implications for public health in rural communities – particularly increased affordability and availability of needed health services.”

Dickson is a currently a research associate at the UK Center of Drug and Alcohol Research, doing data analysis for several different projects. She plans to continue to examine health care access among rural offenders in her future research.

“The ACA opened up a lot of opportunities for health care in rural communities, drug offenders, and incarcerated individuals,” says Dickson. “I think it is important to look at all of these populations in weighing the pros and cons of health care legislation.”  

For Dickson, the focus on SUD research makes the AHSR conference especially appealing. “Everything that is presented is relevant to my work and interesting, making it hard to choose which sessions to attend.”

“Receiving the AHSR Under Represented Investigator Award and attending the conference was a great experience. I appreciated the opportunity to time to network with other researchers. The conversations I had gave me new ways to think about my research." 
Melissa Ertl, University of Albany/State University of New York 

Melissa ErtlUniversity at Albany/State University of New York, also received an Under Represented Investigator Award for her poster, “Social, Cultural, and Structural Factors Associated with Alcohol Use Among Latino Men Who Have Sex with Men: Ethnic Identity as a Protective Factor.”


Ertl, a third-year doctoral student, studied the social correlates of problematic alcohol use and how identity can serve as a moderator for Latino men. “We found that men who are more committed to their Latino ethnic identity tend to drink less alcohol, under certain circumstances,” says Ertl. Her study showed that this is particularly true of Latino men who identify less strongly with the traditional gender role norm of caballerismo, which is characterized by family-centeredness and chivalry. Similarly, ethnic identity commitment is also protective against alcohol use among men who endorse higher levels of machismo—or the gender role norm associated with being tough and masculine.

All three young investigators valued the networking and mentoring opportunities that AHSR 2017 offered, and they encourage other young investigators to apply to attend next year.  

For Brown, Quanbeck, and Deyo, the conference was the grand finale after months of preparation. Highlights for the team included having a chance to show people around Madison, along with getting a lot of positive feedback on the programming, speakers and venue.

AHSR 2018: Savannah

The 2018 AHSR Conference will be hosted by Augusta University Institute of Public and Preventive Health, University of Georgia Owens Institute for Behavioral Research, University of Georgia School of Public & International Affairs, and Georgia State University Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. Check the website regularly for updates and information.