New Brandeis and Harvard center hopes to reduce the substance use problem in the U.S. by focusing on the quality, cost and availability of treatment services

December 21, 2015

WALTHAM, Mass.—Nearly 23 million Americans aged 12 and over suffer from substance abuse disorders (SUD), but only a fraction of that population—just 11 percent—receive treatment.

Given the problem’s serious scope, researchers from Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management and Harvard University Medical School are collaborating to determine the best ways to address it. Funded by a $3.6 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Brandeis/Harvard Center to Improve System Performance of Substance Use Disorder Treatment will expand the research base on this critical issue and will serve as a national resource for those designing SUD treatment policy amid continual changes in the U.S. healthcare delivery system.

“We want to make sure that treatment for people with substance use disorders has a place at the table and is part of the innovation that’s happening during this transformative time,” says principal investigator Constance Horgan of the Heller School. “We need to build the research portfolio that supports these new delivery system approaches to improve quality of care, and we want to help clinical findings get into the real world where they’re paid for and implemented so that they’re making a difference.”

The new Brandeis/Harvard NIDA Center continues a long-standing collaboration between the Heller School’s Schneider Institutes for Health Policy and Harvard Medical School’s Department of Health Care Policy that began in 1995. At that time, managed care was expanding rapidly, but little was known about what it actually involved and, more importantly, what might be its impact. Over the last two decades, the Brandeis and Harvard researchers have examined questions about the managed care of substance use disorder treatments and how it can drive improved quality of care.

Under the umbrella of the new center, the research team will now focus on two important areas that can stem the spread of substance use disorders and the significant cost of treating them: payment methods and service delivery organizations.

"New models of health care payment offer opportunities to redesign health care to improve patient outcomes. It is critical that we examine whether and how these new models of care stimulated by health care reform also improve the health care quality and health outcomes for people with substance use disorders."

Through its research, the center intends to support and inform the providers and policymakers who are working to improve the cost, quality and availability of SUD treatment services.

To learn more about the Brandeis/Harvard Center to Improve System Performance of Substance Use Treatment, visit