Dartmouth Receives NIH Grant to Launch Northeast Node of National Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has awarded a five-year $3.8 million grant to Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth’s Center for Technology and Behavioral Health. The award will support the launch of the new Northeast Node in NIDA’s National Clinical Trials Network (CTN), and clinical trials conducted by the Node will be supported by additional research project grants from NIDA, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

“There is so much energy and enthusiasm not only among the members of the team here at Dartmouth, but also among the more than 400 healthcare partners who are linked to our new Node,” says Lisa Marsch, PhD, director of the Center for Technology and Behavioral Health (CTBH), an associate professor of psychiatry, and principal investigator on the new CTN Node. CTBH is a NIDA-funded national Center of Excellence that uses science to inform the development, rigorous evaluation, and sustainable implementation of mobile and web-based therapeutic tools for substance use disorders and mental health.

Lisa Marsch, PhD, Director of the Center for Technology and Behavioral Health at Dartmouth
Lisa Marsch, PhD, Director of the Center for Technology and Behavioral Health at Dartmouth (Photo by Mark Washburn)

“CTBH was viewed as a real value to this national network,” Marsch says. “There has been very clear recognition within the national CTN and NIDA, as well as in the communities with which they work, that both mobile and web-based technology can play an enormous role in scaling up evidence-based addiction treatment.”

NIDA’s CTN is a national network of academic researchers and community-based healthcare partners collaborating on national clinical trials to identify effective interventions for drug abuse, and how to best coordinate and translate evidence-based treatment into community-based models of care. Prior to the addition of Dartmouth, the CTN has been comprised of 13 Nodes across the U.S.

“This grant accelerates the strong national presence that Lisa has established with the CTBH,” says Duane Compton, Geisel School of Medicine’s interim dean. “Her work is at the cutting edge of using technology to impact on mental health issues and this new award will bring more clinical partners to the table to study and disseminate the best clinical practices throughout the community to treat substance addiction."

Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, historically have not been represented in NIDA’s national set of data or in the clinical trials that have been conducted. “This is the first time these groups will be part of the network, and we will work together on studies to integrate addiction prevention and treatment into primary care,” Marsch says.

“Our community partners are thrilled to be part of this Node,” she adds. “For example, we learned that partners in Maine wanted to be part of the national CTN since its inception, but there hasn’t been a Node this far north—they are excited to contribute to not only the learning, but also to applying what’s learned in their own communities to develop new ways to educate providers in an effort to curb over-prescribing of long-acting prescription opioids.”

Prescription opioid abuse is a big problem in upper New England, and nationally. Vermont has one of the highest rates of opioid abuse in the country and Maine is a top prescriber of extended-release opioid medications—potent medications that have high abuse potential—which are prescribed at a higher rate per capita than in any other state, Marsch notes.

“The selection of Center for Technology and Behavioral Health for this important and prestigious NIDA CTN award aimed at improving treatment and enhancing prevention of substance addiction is an important testament to Geisel’s research strengths,” said Alan I. Green, MD, chair of psychiatry at Geisel and director of SYNERGY, Dartmouth’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute. “It recognizes Dartmouth’s long-standing leadership in research related to addiction, as well as in CTBH’s innovative use of technology tools in behavioral health.”

CTBH’s work includes seminal research on the integration of substance abuse disorder interventions in rural health systems. The Center’s investigators are leaders in the field of technology-based therapeutic tools for all stages of substance abuse disorders and behavioral interventions ranging from development to effectiveness to implementation. They also have expertise in research focused on cannabis and prescription opioid use disorders among adolescents.

“You can create technology-based systems that can deliver a variety of digital therapeutic tools and resources for people with substance use disorders to help with prevention, treatment, and recovery support, but you have to creatively and carefully assess how to best embed them into delivery service models—and I think that’s a unique piece we offer to the national CTN,” Marsch says.