Press Room

Meds-First Initiative expands high-impact treatment for Opioid Use Disorder in WA

Seattle, WA — Aug 22 2019

Four sites will provide medication for Opioid Use Disorder to high needs populations

Today, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and the University of Washington’s Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute (ADAI) announced the Meds-First Initiative that expands an innovative approach to treating Opioid Use Disorder for high-acuity populations to four locations in Washington. The treatment sites are located across the state in North Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma and Walla Walla. 

“Medication for Opioid Use Disorder can save lives – studies have shown it decreases mortality by anywhere from 40-60 percent,” said Caleb Banta-Green, ADAI research scientist and a UW affiliate associate professor of Health Services. “Unfortunately, the majority of people with Opioid Use Disorder don’t have access to it.”

“The Meds-First Initiative expands access to high-needs populations across Washington. This is a bold approach to ensure that everyone who wants access to the most effective treatments gets them. Until we reach everyone who wants care, we won’t be able to have a major impact on this epidemic of opioid addiction and death,” Banta-Green said.

The initiative removes barriers to medications for Opioid Use Disorder and provides a researchbased model of care for high-needs populations such as people experiencing homelessness. It meets people where they are, providing on-demand, patient-centered care in places that underserved groups already frequent – ensuring those who seek care receive it as soon as possible.

Each site will employ care navigators, nurse care managers, and prescribers. The initiative expects to serve approximately 1,250 patients over two years. Nurses and prescribers will provide medical care. Care navigators will serve people from first contact through initial medication stabilization and onto long-term health care management and recovery.

ADAI will provide ongoing support, training, technical assistance, and clinical consultation to staff.

“In Washington, roughly two people a day die from Opioid Use Disorder. Our community can and should do better,” said Bill Hilf, CEO of Vulcan, Inc. “Our goal in supporting the Meds-First Initiative is to make medication more accessible, and to prove a model of treatment that can be scaled to save lives.”

The Meds-First Initiative is based on a successful pilot study in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood that treated 147 patients in one year – 82 percent of whom were experiencing homelessness. The program reached capacity within three months and had retention rates similar to those seen in primary-care settings, despite the much greater challenges faced by this underserved population. Results of the pilot were published in the August 2019 Substance Abuse journal. If the results from the two year Meds-First Initiative are consistent with the initial study in terms of engaging many more people at high risk for overdose, Banta-Green estimates this model of care has the potential to save 16,000 lives every year, implemented on a national scale.

This project is led by the ADAI, with treatment provided at Neighborcare Health in North Seattle, Spokane Regional Health District, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in partnership with Tacoma Needle Exchange, and Blue Mountain Heart to Heart in Walla Walla. Funding for the project comes from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA), Premera Blue Cross, and The Ikigai Fund at Seattle Foundation.

ADAI will conduct a comprehensive implementation research study to test the effects of the intervention on retention on medications for opioid use disorder, emergency healthcare utilization and hospitalization, arrests, and overdose and all-cause deaths.

“Opioid Use Disorder is a critical health issue for many Washingtonians,” said Dr. Charissa Fotinos, Deputy Chief Medical Officer of HCA. “We’re pleased to be a partner on this initiative and look forward to the positive impact it could have on our state’s vulnerable populations.”


About the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation
Launched in 1988 by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen and his sister Jody Allen, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation is dedicated to changing the trajectory of some of the world's toughest problems as well as strengthening communities through catalytic philanthropy. For more information, visit
About the University of Washington's Alcohol and Drub Abuse Institute
The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute (ADAI) is a multidisciplinary research center at the University of Washington. Its mission is to advance research, policy, and practice in order to improve the lives of individuals, families, and communities affected by alcohol and drug use and addiction. The University of Washington established ADAI in October 1973 as a research center and it is currently part of Health Sciences Administration. The Institute is a focal point for alcohol and drug addiction research at the UW and in the northwest region, benefiting the citizens of Washington State by expanding our knowledge and providing information to health and social service professionals, policy makers, and the public. The Institute’s staff of clinical and social psychologists, epidemiologists, public health experts, basic scientists, and information specialists work to improve our understanding and reduce the harm caused by alcohol and drug addiction. For more information, visit


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