Evaluation of a community-based education, navigation, and support (CENS) intervention to reduce opioid-related harms among military veterans

Military veterans in the U.S. represent one of the populations most disproportionately impacted by the current opioid crisis. With historically high rates of injury and opioid analgesic use to treat chronic pain, veterans were widely prescribed opioids (often in conjunction with benzodiazepines) during the early years of the epidemic, and have been at elevated risk of opioid-related overdose and HIV/HCV infection since. Further, current data on opioid-related harms affecting veterans are likely to understate the severity of the situation, as most studies of veterans focus on the less than 50% of veterans who use VA healthcare facilities.

This application proposes to advance scientific understanding of the most potent and efficient way to prevent opioid-related harms among veterans by achieving the following

  • Aim 1: Evaluate the effectiveness of a peer-delivered, community-based education, navigation and support (CENS) intervention to reduce opioid-related risk behaviors
  • Aim 2: Examine factors that mediate (e.g., knowledge, self-efficacy, self-stigma) and moderate (e.g., mental health, pain/OUD severity, age) intervention effectiveness
  • Aim 3: Explore intervention participants’ and peer outreach staff perspectives on implementation as well as barriers to and facilitators of intervention effectiveness.

The proposed intervention will be delivered by three veteran peer outreach workers—one dedicated to each of the three main intervention components (Education, Navigation, and Support). The study will recruit 300 veterans with opioid use disorder to participate in a randomized controlled trial. The CENS intervention will engage 150 participants in ongoing educational sessions, healthcare and treatment navigation, and social support (involving both one-on-one and group social integration protocols) designed to improve self-efficacy, reduce self-stigma, increase service and healthcare utilization, and bolster knowledge.

This study stands to contribute a timely, culturally-tailored innovation to overdose and HIV/HCV prevention-as-usual that, informed by the theory of triadic influence, directly confronts the social, intrapersonal, and structural-level barriers to opioid- related risk reduction among veterans. Study findings will be of great interest to community-based and civic healthcare organizations that provide overdose and HIV/HCV risk reduction outreach, as well as to agencies committed to improving healthcare engagement among veterans.