The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio has been awarded a $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to research peer recovery support services for people living with an opioid use disorder.

According to a Dec. 13 news release, UT Health San Antonio officials said the federal assistance is needed in a time when the United States is grappling with an unprecedented opioid-related overdose crisis.

While medication for opioid use disorder can reduce rates of disease or death, data suggests certain support services both aid treatment and sustain long-term recovery, the release said.

UT Health San Antonio officials said those services can include emerging “peer” support, in which individuals who have experienced addiction have specialized training in supporting others during their recovery by providing nonclinical linkages to treatment—such as mentorship, referrals for medical illnesses, occupational training, housing and education.

However, there are gaps in knowledge of the approach that limit broader adoption, according to Dr. Jennifer Sharpe Potter, vice president for research and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UT Health San Antonio and principal investigator for the NIH grant funding.

Potter also is executive director of Be Well Texas, a statewide initiative of UT Health San Antonio funded by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, providing equitable access to treatment and care for substance use disorder.

“We propose a research network that will provide systematic integration and collaboration between researchers and community-based organizations and develop a pipeline of future recovery scientists to close empirical and practice gaps in peer recovery support services, or PRSS,” Potter said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were about 107,000 opioid-related drug overdose deaths nationwide in the 12 months ending in January.

The Peer Recovery Innovation Network, the name of the new research network under the grant effort, will focus on stakeholder engagement in research agenda-setting, enhance the infrastructure for peer recovery support services science research, and accelerate the growth of the evidence base in priority areas and populations with training and telementoring as key approaches, the release said.

Adrienne Lindsey, director of the Center for Substance Use Training and Telementoring at UT Health San Antonio, said she and her team will use some of the grant money in utilizing the Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes model.

“This telementoring model will be used to expose researchers and clinicians interested in recovery support services and recovery science to the latest research findings and best practice as well as provide a platform to vet research works in progress to get critical feedback from colleagues and subject matter experts in a budding field,” Lindsey said.

The release said these efforts will expand recovery science by developing a research program on peer recovery support during medication for opioid use disorder treatment using a research agenda-setting approach and an associated collaborative process, training and mentoring, and infrastructure development.

Specific aims include establishing a recovery science collaboratory, creating a recovery science training and telementoring program, and evaluating the Peer Recovery Innovation Network and recovery science initiative in the network to determine the effect, efficiency and effectiveness for fostering recovery science and monitoring outcomes using defined measures.

“We believe all this will inform development and expansion of services and strengthen the system of care that those with opioid use disorder may use to initiate and maintain recovery,” Potter said.