Dr Nat Wright, a member of the Opi-Assist Programme Steering Committee, talks to the SSA about the programme designed to help health professionals publish research and move the field of addictions forward in the UK.

SSA: Dr Wright, can you tell us more about the Opi-Assist programme that is launching in the UK this year?

Dr Wright: “Opi-Assist will support healthcare professionals and allied health professionals in the UK to publish their research on opiate addiction including illicit opiates and opiate-derived prescription analgesics. Eligible researchers can apply on behalf of their institutions to receive support in publishing their work. Successful applications are awarded the services of an independent professional medical writer from the programme secretariat. The writer will work with the research team to move the paper from first draft to submission and peer review.

Opi-Assist awards are available both for publication in scientific or medical journals and for presenting research at national or international conferences as poster or oral presentation.

It’s important to emphasise that this field is multidisciplinary, so applications can also come from many disciplines outside of healthcare such as the criminal justice system (probation, social services). It is also worth noting that the awards are formally made to the organisations or institutions, not the individuals.”

SSA: How does the application process work and how are awards decided?

“Applicants can submit their application online at www.opi-assist.com. Applications will be considered by the Opi-Assist Steering Committee, with decisions made 4–8 weeks after the funding window closes.

My colleagues and I on the Steering Committee will assess applications based on several criteria. The most important is impact; will these data ultimately benefit the health or social care of drug users and will professionals who read the findings change their practice as a result? Essentially, we are looking for the ‘so what?’.

The second area of assessment is quality: is the study relevant; is the design robust; are the data collected in a robust fashion; have conventional processes around design and analysis been followed for the type of research being submitted? For example, we are more likely to award support for quantitative research with statistical analysis than to descriptive work with simple percentages.”

SSA: So, the programme supports both qualitative and quantitative publications. What types of studies are eligible?

“Opi-Assist will consider a wide range of study types, from clinical trials and epidemiological studies to process evaluation and service audits. It is the rigour and impact of the research that will determine success. It’s also important to note that awards do not cover new research or statistical analysis but focus on the publication process. While the medical writers can support with creating figures, statistical analysis must be complete at the time of application.”

SSA: Why might someone apply to this programme?

“I think that clinicians and professionals who work with people who use drugs face a number of barriers to publishing their work, or even considering doing research.

Some of this is related to the perceived status of the field. Mainstream generalist journals, for example, are often more open to manuscripts on illnesses like diabetes or heart disease than opiate dependence. Informally, some people in the field tell me that working with this often marginalised population leads to professional marginalisation for themselves.

There are also financial and time constraints. With the cost pressures in the field, a clinician may propose to their institution that they publish their data, only to be told that they have clinics to do and patients to see. This is where Opi-Assist can really add value by making sure that the publication process will not take as much time from the clinician. I also think that the move towards open access publishing can raise a financial barrier by requiring a publication fee, which not all institutions are willing to pay.”

SSA: Do you think that inexperience or a lack of confidence in publishing are barriers?

“Yes, I believe so, and not just among PhD candidates who may be publishing for the first time or without significant institutional support. Taking the example of primary care – my own background – there are many academic primary care departments around the country but relatively few with a primary care addictions research department. So, the number of experienced publishers in the field, who can mentor clinicians and others who aspire to publish research, is relatively small. Opi-Assist can really make a difference in this area.”

SSA: What skills do think medical writers can bring to this publication process?

“Crucially I feel that the medical writer brings a dedicated focus to writing and publishing and is not diverted by clinical or administrative demands. They will also bring a professionalism to the publishing process, as it is their bread and butter. They have a knowledge and experience of the system and processes and how to craft manuscripts that journals will accept. Even little things like formatting and meeting journal criteria can trip up inexperienced clinicians writing papers for the first time.”

SSA: Will the medical writers have any influence on the research itself?

“No, the medical writers are coming in after the completion and interpretation of the research. They will have no influence on the research findings. Their role is to support the researchers with copy and correspondence, and the authors will always have final sign off and responsibility for the paper.”

SSA: The Opi-Assist programme is funded by Camurus Ltd. What influence do they have over award decisions and publications?

“That’s right. This is an arm’s length programme, so Camurus have no influence over the selection of the Steering Committee or their funding decisions and will not be involved in any awarded publications. The programme criteria and funding allocations are solely the decision of the Steering Committee. Camurus are provided with reports detailing pre-launch meetings and materials, and details of the successful applicants for their reference and Transfer of Value records.”

To find out more and apply for an Opi-Assist award for your research, go to www.opi-assist.com

The opinions expressed in this post reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions or official positions of the SSA.

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