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Breaking down barriers

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Breaking down barriers

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April 5, 2008

More than 23 million Americans age 12 or older need treatment for substance abuse and addiction, yet only a fraction - less than 10 percent - actually receive it. Worse, among those who do get treatment, very few have access to the treatments that are known to work.

"We have treatments that work, and we have people who want treatment," said Paul Roman, University of Georgia Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology and director of UGA's Center for Research on Behavioral Health and Human Services Delivery, a component of the Institute for Behavioral Research.

"The problem now is getting treatment providers to adopt new, promising practices so that substance abusers can get the best treatment available."

Roman and a team of researchers based in the IBR have been awarded multiple grants totaling $9 million from both federal and private sources to improve the quality of substance abuse treatment. Last fall, Roman was awarded a five-year $3.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the diffusion, adoption and implementation of effective substance abuse treatment practices in a network of clinical treatment providers across the country. Co-investigators are research scientists Lori Ducharme, Aaron Johnson and Hannah Knudsen. This grant follows a five-year $2.85 million grant from NIH in 2006 to continue a 15-year study tracking organizational changes and development in the national substance abuse treatment system.

"It is hard to overestimate the societal value, both in dollars and in quality of life, of identifying effective ways to disseminate research-based treatments. It is a source of pride for UGA that we have such a strong research group working in this area," said David Lee, UGA vice president for research.

"The intellectual impact of Roman's group over the past 15 years has been tremendous," said Steven Beach, director of the UGA Institute for Behavioral Research. "It is critically important that we foster the dialogue between treatment providers and those providing innovative, cost-effective, treatment improvements - and Roman's work has done precisely that."

Roman has observed the evolution of alcohol abuse and drug addiction treatment for over 25 years. New validated treatments available in recent years include FDA-approved pharmacotherapies for the treatment of addiction, psychosocial counseling and behavioral therapies. However, as Roman's research has uncovered, individual, organizational and systemic barriers can get in the way of delivering those treatments to substance abusers.

Complementing his NIH funded-research, Roman also has a $1.9 million grant to evaluate Advancing Recovery, an $11 million national program funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to improve the quality of addiction care by supporting partnerships between treatment provider organizations and states. States are both the largest purchaser of publicly funded treatment services and regulators and licensers of those services. The evaluators will study how these partnerships can reduce barriers to adoption of evidence-based practices, ranging from variability in staff experience and education to purchasing and regulatory practices and adoption of consistent standards across state agencies.