Researchers at the RAND Corporation are thinking beyond traditional silos to solve problems within America's Opioid Ecosystem. This framework can help federal, state, and local policymakers better understand the dynamics of our opioid-involved problems—and explore innovative and evidence-based solutions.

America’s Opioid Ecosystem

In this approach, issues surrounding opioids are viewed as an ecosystem. As in a biological ecosystem, the components interact directly and indirectly. People who use opioids and their family members are at the center, with ten interrelated systems, agencies, and sectors making up the outer components.

The main contribution of this study is to identify opportunities at the intersections of the ecosystem’s components and highlight other cross-sector initiatives that could mitigate the harmful effects of opioids. This comprehensive view recognizes how decisions made in one part of the ecosystem can have major effects in others—sometimes helpful, sometimes harmful, and sometimes unanticipated.

This approach helps identify new policy perspectives, contradictions, and synergies. A broader perspective can also identify opportunities generated by the interactions of components across the ecosystem. Although our focus is on opioids, many of these insights apply to other drugs as well.

Key Policy Opportunities

The policy ideas and solutions outlined in this database are rooted in some combination of the following four opportunities to mitigate the harms associated with opioids.

  • Integration: Issues surrounding opioids should be considered in the context of the ecosystem.
  • Innovation: Current responses to problems related to opioids are insufficient—we need to innovate and experiment with new approaches.
  • Ownership: Someone needs to take ownership of assisting individuals with their transitions across ecosystem components.
  • Information: Revamping our data systems can help us better evaluate existing interventions, invent new ones, and improve our understanding of ecosystem interactions.

While these opportunities signify areas in which policymakers can make progress, just because an idea appears in this tool does not mean that it should be a priority for every community. We recognize the complexities, challenges, and potential downsides of implementing these approaches.

Read the full article about opioid policy at RAND Corporation.