AHRQ Opioid Initiative

In recent years we’ve seen a growing epidemic of opioid abuse, with tragic consequences for the Nation’s public health. The number of opioid overdoses has increased at a shocking pace. In 2015, an average of more than 90 people died each day from opioid overdose.1

The misuse of opioids such as prescription pain medications and heroin has become widespread across the United States. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recognized opioid use disorder (OUD) as a national crisis, creating an initiative that targets three areas:

  • Opioid prescribing practices,
  • Expanded use and distribution of naloxone to treat overdose, and
  • Increased access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for OUD.

Each HHS agency has identified policy steps they can take in alignment with their mandates to help address these problems.

AHRQ's Opioid-Related Activities

In 2016, AHRQ commissioned the development of a technical brief that included a literature review and interviews with key informants to gather information on models of MAT for OUD for use in primary care settings. That report, Medication-Assisted Treatment Models of Care for Opioid Use Disorder in Primary Care Settings, describes the evidence base for promising and innovative MAT models and notes barriers to the implementation of MAT, including those in rural and other underserved settings.

Also in 2016, AHRQ invested in a grant initiative, Increasing Access to Medication-Assisted Treatment of Opioid Abuse in Rural Primary Care Practices, to support rural primary care practices in delivering MAT. AHRQ awarded grants to five grantees. The major goals of this Research Dissemination and Implementation (R-18) grant are to:

  • Learn more about models and effective strategies to initiate and sustain MAT for OUD in rural primary care practices, and
  • Develop, test, use, and disseminate resources and training materials for physicians and rural primary care practices that will facilitate and sustain MAT.

Role of the AHRQ Academy

The Academy’s role in AHRQ’s opioid initiative is to:

  • Conduct an environmental scan on implementing MAT in rural primary care, identifying tools for MAT implementation,
  • Partner with and provide technical assistance to the AHRQ Primary Care MAT grantees, disseminate their findings, and share resources more broadly with others implementing MAT for OUD in rural primary care settings, and
  • Leverage the Academy’s National Integration Academy Council (NIAC), Web portal, and other products to support implementers of MAT for OUD in primary care and share other sources of information on MAT for OUD, including opioid-related activities across HHS agencies.


  1. Rudd RA, Seth P, David F, et al. Increases in drug and opioid-involved overdose deaths: United States, 2010-2015. MMWR 2016 Dec 30;65:1445-52. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm655051e1.htm?s_cid=mm655051e1_w. Accessed May 30, 2017.