What is the Current State of Research and Addiction Treatment? A Q&A with Dr. Jon Morgenstern

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Dr.Jon Morgenstern 

Dr. Jon Morgenstern, who leads addiction research at Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research and serves as Assistant Vice President of Addiction Services at Northwell Health, discusses in this Q&A how new and innovative approaches to substance abuse treatment are imperative to effectively addressing this major epidemic.

What is the current state of research and addiction treatment?

While there has been an increase in research activity focused on addiction issues, the challenge is that it often takes a decade or more before important clinical findings can be implemented into real-world care delivery.

To address this problem we must begin to create addiction treatment learning laboratories that are embedded into and coexist with treatment and recovery centers. The goal is to accelerate the translation of basic science discoveries into actionable treatment methodologies that can be shared with and help advance the work of addiction professionals nationwide.

Why is this important now?

Most programs offer a variety of different treatments, but there is no research on the impact of these multi-component programs or how to tailor care to the unique problems of individual patients.

Additionally, because there is little knowledge of how best to measure progress in treatment it can be very difficult to make critical decisions about when to extend care or introduce a new treatment. As a result, the current standard of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) treatment too often provides a one-size-fits-all set of services, or if treatment is personalized, it is based on clinical intuition without the benefit of research.

What’s the key missing when it comes to addiction research?

Addiction research is behind in the use and analysis of data. In other words, there is a significant need for real-time data collection to enable care that is tailored to the individual and how he or she changes over time.

We must now begin to work toward developing state-of- the-art clinical informatic platforms that can collect research quality data on every patient at admission, during treatment, and for several years following discharge.

The goal is for researchers to be able to identify treatment outcomes and patterns, and in doing so understand the interventions that work best for individual patients and then integrate them into everyday clinical care. Being able to see if outcomes improve as treatment is modified will be a significant advancement in the addiction field.

What can be done to accelerate the integration of research into addiction treatment?

Addiction treatment centers need to establish strong affiliations with the nation’s leading healthcare providers, and build collaborative relationships with major research institutions. 

A good example of this is how Northwell Health, the largest healthcare provider in New York has engaged in a joint venture with Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research. This unique venture will approach addiction in a modern way by aligning best practices in a manner similar to how Northwell addresses other illnesses like diabetes and cancer.

What are the advantages of these ventures?

Having access to the necessary resources to explore some of the more promising areas of addiction treatment including mapping genetic profiles directly to optimize addiction treatment, as well as expanding research on how genetic biomarkers can inform the use of medications. Other important areas of study might include imaging, neuroscience, precision medicine and comparative effectiveness. 

Affiliations and collaborations can also help create the opportunity to study large cohorts of patients, and support continuum of care by tracking patient’s recovery and exploring new options for staying in touch with patients over extended periods of time.

Jon Morgenstern, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized expert on the treatment of substance use disorders. He leads addiction research at Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research, and serves as Assistant Vice President of Addiction Services at Northwell Health.

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