Few families are left untouched by the devastating problems caused by opioid misuse and addiction, which take the lives of about 50,000 people each year in the United States.

Similar to cancer and cardiovascular disease, opioid use disorder is a chronic illness that includes periods of both remission and relapse. Although many people achieve long-term recovery, the most effective pathways to a healthy life are not well understood. 

Now, Virginia Tech and Indivior, a pharmaceutical company focused on developing medications to treat substance use disorders, have agreed to extend the RECOVER (Remission from Chronic Opioid Use-Studying Environmental and Socio-Economic Factors on Recovery) Study. 

RECOVER is a multisite, noninterventional cohort study examining long-term recovery in individuals with moderate to severe opioid use disorder who received at least one dose of study treatment during the Phase 3 clinical trials studying safety and tolerability for Sublocade, an extended-release treatment for moderate to severe opioid use. 

The study will be carried out by a team of researchers led by Warren Bickel, a professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, the Virginia Tech Carilion Behavioral Health Research Professor, and a professor of psychology in the College of Science at Virginia Tech.

“This study represents a powerful example of how academia and industry can collaborate through rigorous science to study human behavior in order to address a major health problem that is causing unprecedented hardship throughout the United States, particularly here in Virginia,” said Michael Friedlander, vice president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech and the executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “Together, we are determined to find scientifically sound solutions to the opioid crisis. As one of the world’s most innovative addiction researchers, Dr. Bickel is the ideal leader for this important program, bringing years of innovation, leadership, and rigorous study design to bear on this important national health issue.”

The misuse of and addiction to opioids — including prescription pain relieversheroin, and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl — is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

“We believe that this Virginia Tech-Indivior study, which will actively engage patients in their real-world environment, will contribute to a better understanding of how patients are pursuing the life changes they aspire to achieve, which is what true recovery is all about,” said Christian Heidbreder, chief scientific officer of Indivior Inc. 

While a number of medications and treatments have been developed to address opioid use disorder, the current approach focuses on achieving short-term abstinence and not the  challenges of remaining abstinent for long periods of time.

“A week of being opioid-free may be an important milestone for many individuals, but remaining drug-free for years and having a happy, productive life with great family relationships is the outcome we strive to achieve,” Bickel said. “By assessing these various aspects of recovery comprehensively, repeatedly, and over long periods of time, this first-of-its-kind study will help solve critical issues for the nation.”

Researchers hope the study may also provide information to health care systems and policymakers on how successful treatment and long-term recovery can reduce the economic burden opioid use disorder by reducing health care costs, crime, and unemployment. 

The scope and duration of these assessments may also lead to important new insights into theoretical models of recovery and allow researchers, clinicians, and patients to more accurately characterize the process of recovery, identify factors that promote or hinder success, and develop new and personalized treatment strategies.