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Evaluation of quick response teams will fill gap in research about diversion programs

Apr 23, 2021

In 2018, Interact for Health began funding quick response teams, an innovative way to tackle the opioid epidemic. A type of pre-arrest diversion, quick response teams are generally comprised of police, fire/EMS and treatment professionals that follow up with a person who overdosed within 48 to 72 hours. They typically provide resources, naloxone to reverse overdoses and connections to treatment, if the person wants it. Team members continue to build a relationship to encourage the person to go to treatment and reduce the chance of recidivism.

Soon after the initiative began, Interact for Health and its partners at the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University began a three-year multisite evaluation of the quick response team model. As part of this project, the team began looking for research and studies about other pre-arrest diversion programs.

"We had hoped to find that there was some multisite evidence out there that would help inform our body of work," said Evaluation Officer Michelle Lydenberg.

However, current research was found to be very limited. The research team couldn't use it to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of substance use diversion programs for several reasons:

  • Most of the studies were about programs that occur after someone enters the criminal justice system.
  • Few studies examined changes in substance use over time or results from more than one site.
  • Studies used different outcome indicators so it was difficult to compare results.
  • Analysis of the cost effectiveness was limited.

The lack of research about diversion programs amplifies the importance of studying Interact for Health's quick response team initiative, Lydenberg said. Interact for Health and its university partners will undertake those studies in additional phases of the evaluation project.

Though the new and innovative nature of quick response teams can feel like "we're building the ship as we're sailing it," Lydenberg said the teams will be evaluated in several ways that will advance the field of substance abuse diversion programs. 

Interact for Health's evaluation includes four teams in rural, urban and suburban settings, which will allow for multisite comparisons. The teams use the same data collection software so common measures such as recidivism, service utilization, substance use and psychosocial functioning can be analyzed. Finally, Xavier University will conduct a cost analysis of the programs.

"We hope the work we're doing will fill some of the gaps," Lydenberg said.

Lydenberg and her colleagues' review of current research, "Diversion Programs for Individuals Who Use Substances: A Review of the Literature," appears in the March 2021 edition of the Journal of Drug Issues.

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