Opioid Use, Misuse and Overdose

Abt Associates has taken bold action to help prevent opioid misuse and overdose. Our work has helped address the supply of and demand for illegal drugs and the misuse of legal substances for federal, state and local agencies, as well as other key stakeholders. We’ve pioneered research strategies to estimate the worldwide supply of illegal drugs, led research on drug-trafficking organizations, and evaluated the effectiveness of substance use disorder treatment programs. Abt has also developed and tested tools to improve opioid prescribing. Our team of multidisciplinary experts brings critical insight and approaches to help access the hard-to-reach and at-risk substance-using populations.

Together, our research, policy analysis, program implementation, technical support and communication activities inform real-world practices to ensure the greatest positive impacts on our communities.


Abt has a long history designing and implementing projects aimed at understanding the breadth of the opioid epidemic, as well as innovations and solutions. Highlights include:

  • Conducting research on the extent of prescription drug misuse and doctor shopping.
  • Informing more effective prescribing practices by supporting the development of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain and implementation in practice.
  • Training doctors and nurses about buprenorphine to educate the medical community about its use in medication-assisted treatment.
  • Teaching the general public, providers, employers, and those in recovery about the rights of those in medication-assisted treatment.
  • Developing and evaluating innovative health information technology tools to support people in treatment and recovery from opioid use disorders.
  • Serving as thought leaders to local, federal and internal stakeholders on evidence-based drug policies.

Relevant Expertise

  • Prevention and EducationAbt has been at the forefront of educating primary care practitioners about buprenorphine. Shortly after the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA’s) approval of buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid use disorders in 2002, Abt supported SAMHSA in a national education program aimed at informing physicians about the availability of buprenorphine as a treatment option for opioid addiction. This contract also supported the development and production of Buprenorphine: A Guide for Nurses, which SAMHSA published in a technical assistance paper.
  • Research and EvaluationThrough a Department of Justice contract, Abt led an early assessment of prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) to explore the feasibility of conducting a systematic evaluation of their effectiveness. Building on our knowledge of PDMPs, Abt conducted several evaluations of the effectiveness of these programs, including assessing their effects on the prescribing of opioid analgesics and other pain medications in ambulatory care settings in twenty-four states.
  • Policy FormulationTo support safe prescribing and to reduce adverse consequences of opioid use, CDC contracted with Abt to assist with researching and developing the opioid prescribing guideline for chronic pain. CDC issued the final guideline in March 2016.
  • Health Care Systems DevelopmentAbt collaborated with the CDC on the national implementation and dissemination of CDC’s opioid-prescribing guidelines into primary care practices. For this effort, we collaborated with a diverse set of organizations across public and private sectors along with academic institutions including Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, University of Washington, and Change Management Consultants. At the state level, the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission (HPC) commissioned a report from Abt examining opioid addiction in the Commonwealth. The report defined a set of system specifications, including considerations of financing and return on investment, provider capabilities, quality metrics, and workforce development, followed by a gap analysis between these system characteristics and current capabilities.
  • Communications and DisseminationAbt supported the development of the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. This report discusses the growing relationship between prescription drug misuse and heroin use, and provides evidence-based strategies for addressing the growing opioid epidemic.

Contact Us

Douglas McDonald, Ph.D.
Principal Associate/Scientist
Cambridge, MA
(617) 349-2737

Scott Novak, Ph.D.
Principal Associate/Scientist
Durham, NC
(919) 294-7700

Sarah Shoemaker, Pharm.D., Ph.D.
Senior Associate/Scientist
Cambridge, MA
(617) 349-2472

Melanie Whitter
Principal Associate/Scientist
Bethesda, MD
(301) 634-1712

Abt Associates

Abt Associates is an engine for social impact, harnessing the power of data and grounded insight to bring people from vulnerability to security worldwide.  We think boldly to deliver solutions that cross disciplines, methods, and geographies. Abt provides impact through research, evaluation, and program implementation in the fields of health, social and environmental policy, and international development.