T2 Core partners with RISD’s Center for Complexity on Strategic Design Studios

Despite ongoing efforts to curtail the overdose crisis through expanded access to treatment and harm reduction services, last year Rhode Island saw 384 preventable overdose deaths—the highest number ever recorded in the state. The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the structural and systemic inequities that underly the overdose challenge and created significant health disparities for marginalized populations. The complexity of this challenge requires a coordinated, interdisciplinary approach in collaboration with people who use drugs, as well as a broadening of our conventional frameworks used for understanding addiction and overdose.

To help meet this goal and inspire ideas for novel research, in March 2021 the COBRE on Opioids & Overdose Translational & Transformative (T2) Core partnered with the Center for Complexity (CfC) at Rhode Island School of Design on a 6-month interdisciplinary strategic design studio undertaking. Strategic design studios are a process of collaborative problem-solving, rapid prototyping, and implementation utilized by designers and researchers. The studio format brings together diverse stakeholders around the challenge space to explore hard questions, generate new insights, and develop novel projects aimed at addressing complex societal challenges.

Over July and August 2021, the CfC and COBRE virtually convened 14 diverse studio participants over 16 hours to understand the context of the current system, appreciate the harms created by it, and explore ideas for research questions and project proposals.

The group was divided into two theme-based studios, which resulted in five different teams and ideas introduced. The following concepts were presented:

1. SEED: Support, Embrace, Empower, Differently: A proposal for a comprehensive Mental Health Center which offers an array of harm reduction and mental health services and is integrated with CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) services. The model will empower people with lived experience through shared decision making and by increasing access to services.

Joshua Miller, RI State Senator; Leigh Hubbard, Nurse Manager, Open Door Health; Tyrone Mckinney, Basic Needs Associate, Project Weber/Renew

2. An Ecosystem of Safety: An uncompromising vision for housing in Rhode Island where no one gets turned away from housing. This restorative and transformative justice-led environment will be co-created by people with lived experience, will be open 24/7, and is guided by principles of human rights and dignity.

Dr. Jeffrey Bratberg, Clinical Professor, University of Rhode Island; Laurie MacDougall, Family Program Manager; Lisa Peterson, Chief Operator Officer, VICTA; Annajane Yolken, Director of Programs, Project Weber/Renew

3. Transitional Housing and System Values: A proposal the incorporates different models of transitional housing and gives Rhode Island residents a chance to recover and rebuild.

Selene Means, Digital Media Specialist, RICARES; Robbin Levasseur, Outreach worker, New England Coalition Against Human Trafficking

4. Buprenorphine: Aspirin of Overdose?: A proposal to utilize buprenorphine as a prevention mechanism by expanding access and making the medication available without a prescription.

Dr. Brandon del Pozo, Postdoctoral Researcher, Lifespan; Kim Paull, Director, Value-Based Care Program, BCBSRI

5. Building the Beloved Community: A Manifesto for designing a true system of care to replace the profit-driven healthcare marketplace. The manifesto recognizes that at the heart of recovery is agency and personal choice, devolves responsibility of care to the community as a whole, operates on harm reduction principles, offers evidence-based tools and support, and has the capacity to offer people treatment when they need it, and offers everyone the opportunity to contribute.

Dr. Michael Fine, Former Director, Rhode Island Department of Health; Colleen Daley Ndoye, Executive Director, Project Weber/Renew