A leading organization in the effort to translate substance use disorder research into everyday clinical practice is now part of a nonprofit entity with a much broader public health focus. Time will tell whether the Treatment Research Institute's (TRI's) merger into the Philadelphia-based Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC) will serve as a positive force for moving the addiction and general health worlds closer together.
For the moment, TRI's founder and board chairman tells Addiction Professional, the move largely was driven by TRI's need to stay viable. Leadership and staffing changes after Thomas McLellan's retirement as the institute's executive director, combined with a more challenging environment around securing grant funding, had resulted in a shrinking of the organization that threatened its survival.
“It was not viable to continue the work we did without a larger presence,” says McLellan. He adds, “Our preference would have been to remain independent for a long time.”
As part of PHMC, TRI now joins a much larger organization involved in areas ranging from research to technical assistance to direct services, with close to 350,000 clients served each year throughout Pennsylvania. In acquiring TRI's intellectual property, PHMC expands into a subject area in which it does not have prior experience, McLellan says.
But both the addiction and public health communities acknowledge the need to grow closer in order to reverse the damage of undertreated substance use disorders, even if actual initiatives in this area largely remain in a nascent stage.
“The addiction field needs fewer, bigger, broader organizations, speaking with one voice wherever possible,” says McLellan. “I think you're going to see a lot more consolidation, for these reasons.”
Two decades ago, McLellan says, TRI had a track record of securing around 80% of its sought-after grants on the first application, and most were for five-year research programs. More recently, as research into more biologically based interventions has taken precedence over research into therapeutic strategies, the percentage of accepted applications and the program duration have dropped precipitously, although McLellan adds that he can't argue in theory with the direction the research priorities have taken.
The types of research-to-practice subjects TRI has advanced over the years range from toolkit approaches to improving clinicians' performance in group therapy sessions to using creative formats to encourage and maintain substance use patient engagement.
McLellan says longtime TRI scientist Adam Brooks, PhD, will run the substance use operation at PHMC. “He is a true translational researcher,” McLellan says of Brooks. “He understands the clinical side extremely well, and he understands policy.”
PHMC president and CEO Richard J. Cohen said in a news release this week that the merging of TRI into his organization will enhance its ability to meet the public health needs of the communities it serves.
“TRI merging into PHMC creates great opportunity for the development of research and scientific-based programs that treat substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health issues, a topic of critical importance in light of today's opioid epidemic,” Cohen said.