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Webinar Transcript: NIJ FY 2024 Research on Law Enforcement Responses to Opioid Overdoses Webinar Transcript

Deadline Notice

The deadline for the opportunity discussed in this webinar has passed.

NIJ held a webinar on December 6, 2023, to provide an overview of the "NIJ FY 24 Research on Law Enforcement Responses to Opioid Overdoses" solicitation, in which NIJ seeks proposals from accredited research universities to study law enforcement’s responses to opioid overdoses. The study shall take into account law enforcement’s responses with linked community agencies and also include specific practices utilized to ensure the well-being, assessment, and protection of children in these situations.


STACY LEE: Good afternoon and thanks for joining us for the National Institute of Justice Fiscal Year 2024 Research on Law Enforcement Responses to Opioid Overdoses. It's my pleasure to introduce Dr. Joel Hunt, Senior Computer Scientist at the National Institute of Justice.

DR. JOEL HUNT: Good afternoon, everybody. I’m glad to see so many people who are here and interested in this funding opportunity. This is a funding opportunity for NIJ's Fiscal Year 2024 Research and Evaluation on Law Enforcement Responses to Opioid Overdoses. The two important dates at this point would be that you must meet the Grants.gov deadline of February 12, 2024 and the solicitation close date of February 26, 2024. It is now my pleasure to introduce Dr. Nancy La Vigne who is the Director of NIJ, to provide some comments on in response to the solicitation.

DR. NANCY LA VIGNE: Thank you, Joel. And I also want to thank and acknowledge Stacy Lee, our host for this webinar, as well as colleagues, Jill Barnas and Daryl Fox, who have joined us and are going to be helping out with the Q&A. I'm really delighted to be able to share a bit more about this particular solicitation. It is the result of a congressional mandate. Congress wants us to solicit research on this topic and we enthusiastically agree that there's a lack of good, rigorous research on law enforcement responses to the opioid crisis and opioid overdoses. Yet we know that law enforcement or other sworn first responders tend to be the first on the scene when overdoses either get reported from a residence or business or law enforcement are happening upon people who have overdosed during the course of their routine patrol activities.

We also know that this is an issue that spans age, race, demographic, urban, rural, and suburban. It's a widespread public health crisis across the United States. It intersects with issues around the criminal justice system writ large, and specifically with regard to law enforcement. Do they enforce drug overdoses? Do they have bystander laws? (These are the kinds of laws in some jurisdictions that do not criminally penalize people for reporting overdoses even if they are a party to unlawful drug use.) How do they deal with children present on the scene? What kinds of technologies or tools are they using? There's, for example, ODMAP. It's been used sporadically across the country by some law enforcement agencies, but maybe not all officers within an agency are using it. The list goes on and on, including deflection strategies.

But what we do know is that this is a vitally important issue. According to the CDC, since 1999 there have been over a million overdoses that are tied to opioid use or misuse. I also want to acknowledge that we recognize that while the purpose of the solicitation is looking at opioids, we know that sometimes those overdoses are combined with other substances. So that's fair game, but any winning proposal has to look at opioids, both prescription and synthetic. We know that synthetic opioids are really driving a lot of the overdoses that we're seeing across the country. So there's a lot to unpack here and we're really excited to see your proposals come in and we certainly want to entertain questions about what we're seeking in this.

As Joel will share with you, we intentionally crafted this to be quite general in nature and invite your best ideas about how to competitively respond to this solicitation. With that said, however, there are priorities that we have at NIJ and priorities that are important to me as NIJ Director. One is this notion of inclusive research. We think it's important that any winning proposal include in its methodologies and its dissemination activities engagement with the people that are closest to the issue of problem under study. That's certainly law enforcement themselves, but it could well be people who have lived experience with opioid use disorders or family members of those people.

We also know that this is one of the topics that intersects with a lot of other entities, both governmental and nonprofit. It could be health and human services. It could be child protective services. It could be the jail system. It could be the schools. So we really want to see a lot of collaboration and holistic thinking around the proposal.

We're certainly interested in looking at biases according to race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so forth. We know that those tend to be pronounced in the criminal justice system as well as in the public health system. So that's something that we would want to see in proposals - acknowledgement of the possibility of biases and proposing methodology that will enable the detection those biases and account for them in analysis and the findings as they are presented back.

We are big fans of interdisciplinary research teams. So if you're a criminologist, think about teaming up with someone in your public health department or vice versa. There's a lot of opportunities to bring different perspectives to connect different academic disciplines and we think that's really important.

Finally, we really want to see robust dissemination plans. That's really important to us. It's part of our evidence-to-action initiative. What's the point in generating new research knowledge if you're not able to not just translate it so it's understandable, but also share it with the field in a way that inspires policymakers and practitioners and other decision-makers to make— changes designed to improve the safety, the wellbeing, and the health of the members of the public. That's just a broad brushstroke of some of the priorities that really cover all of NIJ's solicitations and this one in particular. I will turn it back to Joel to walk you through the solicitation. Thank you.

JOEL HUNT: Thank you, Nancy, for that. This is a solicitation that I'm very excited about. It's such an interesting and timely topic and one that I think needs more discussion and research. So with that, I just want to kick off with the purpose and the goals of this solicitation. We really need to have a better understanding of, "What are the ranges of law enforcement responses to opioid overdoses?" We know that there are some locations where there are certain requirements for them to have medical responses or not have medical responses and how is that impacting the overdoses and overdose deaths? We understand that there is a breadth and complexity to the linked community agencies. And by linked community agencies, we're talking about public and private agencies that also play a role in responding to the opioid overdose crisis. Within the research, we want you to provide methods to not only understand what's going on at the national level, but what's going on specifically and the complexity of how these relationships are formed and maintained. It is just a very difficult question.

In the solicitation, we do point to some other research that has already been done. We do recommend that you look at that prior research so that you're not redundant with it, so that you are filling in gaps. Consider that while you're considering how you'll tackle these goals. And the last one is really understanding specific practices used to ensure the wellbeing assessment, and protection of children in these situations. We know that there are over a million children right now who are in households, where opioid substance use disorder is impacting their lives. So what kind of work is being done in these responses to ensure the wellbeing of the children in these situations?

For this award, the expected deliverables are our standard grant reporting requirements, which is a semi-annual research performance progress report. These reports normally say, "What have you done over the past six months?" and cumulatively, "What have you done?" There are also quarterly financial reports where you report how much money has been obligated for work that has been conducted or for purchases. At the end, there is a final research report. All datasets and files are supposed to be archived with NACJD, the National Archive on Criminal Justice Data. We expect scholarly products. When we have a topic like this, that's so important to the practitioners and to the community agencies, we highly recommend that you think about what types of scholarly products are the most appropriate. Obviously a lot of individuals need to have academic publications, but also practitioner publications and translational work are going to be highly looked at in this. How accessible are these different products? Things like that you should consider while putting together your application.

There are three critical elements to your application, and by critical, we mean if these are not included in your application, your submission will be rejected immediately. So that is a program narrative. Inside of the solicitation, we describe all the elements of the program narratives, the page requirements, all those kinds of things. The budget now is done on a web-based form, that includes the budget detail, the exact numbers for all the different categories of your budget, such as personnel, other direct costs, indirect costs, along with the narrative describing how that money will be used. The third one is the CV or resume for key personnel, and we define key personnel as any PI or co-PI named inside the application.

The other required forms are an SF-424 and an SF-LLL. There is a two-step application submission protocol here. The first one, as I mentioned earlier, is the Grants.gov, which has a February 12, 2024 deadline. To meet that deadline, that is only the SF-424 and the SF-LLL forms. You can register. We have the link provided there. It's also on the actual solicitation itself. The second step of submission protocol is actually going in and submitting all the key elements and any additional documents for your actual application. Those must be received by February 26, 2024. You can register at the URL provided to learn how to go through this process.

The solicitation directs you who to go to for help with these two steps as I don't have access to these systems in a way that I am any help to you. Again, the basic minimum requirement determination is ensuring that all three of those documents are there, the CVs for everyone, your budget with the narratives in there, and your actual narratives.

We also conduct something else at the same time that's called a technical merit review that is part of this process. And in that, we essentially ensure that you are responsive to the solicitation. In this case, we're talking about law enforcement responses to opioid overdoses. If you put something in here that's corrections and recidivism, we're going to kick it out because it's not applicable to our actual application.

All those that meet our basic minimum requirements will then go on to an external expert review panel. These are comprised of technical and practitioner reviewers. It's normally three or four different reviewers [that] will score and provide comments on every application. We then also have an internal review that is conducted by NIJ science staff and our leadership and other several subject matter experts. All of this is essentially packaged up and we provide all of this information to the NIJ Director, who you all just met, to help inform her funding decisions.

Common critiques raised during the peer review process. A lot of people propose really great work, but they don't ever really support it. They don't talk about what are the gaps and how these failures and these gaps are leading to an issue and how they will address that gap. Their literature reviews quite often are insufficient in helping to justify the research and why it's important. A lot of times, we get extremely limited or ambiguous research. Sometimes, and this is now kind of crossing over into the research design, we'll get some of those "trust me" applications where —"We’re going to talk to some people and based on what they say, we’re then going to do something.” Well, you need to provide more than just that. You need to give us specificity on how things are going to work out and why we should assume that first level of research will work, such that the second one can be conducted. That kind of goes to the overall strategy is not well articulated, you don't have very good logical flow, or it's unclear how your design and methods and proposed statistical approach will all line up.

A lot of people forget the importance of the sample size. Will they actually have enough power at the end of the day to talk about how important the findings are or are they not? A lot of times, projects are not feasible or they're feasible purely from a scientific or academic standpoint and they don't think about the operationally realistic or applied nature of the "so what." And if there is no "so what" at the end of this, we're not here to purely promote the academic side. If you want to have that translation, we want to care about that "so what" in helping the practitioners in the field writ large do better job.

Capabilities and competencies. We want to see that that the team as a whole has the skillsets necessary to conduct the research. That includes managing the research. A lot of times the teams are not interdisciplinary enough. There's not really a clear management component. We need to see those things to ensure that, if funded, that this research will have a high likelihood of being successful. A lot of applications, their dissemination plans lack specificity and/or they're not innovative. —It’s “We're going to do two academic publications and that's it.” We need applications to go beyond that. As earlier mentioned, think about the non-academic audiences – what kind of translation work will be there? What kind of accessibility will there be to these articles? Things like that. This all just ties it back together.

Proposals should be well-written, innovative, timely, rigorous, well-designed, feasible, [and] impactful. Research evaluation independence is important. [If] you go to our NIJ website, we have a section talking about the importance of independence. It's a little less of a concern within a solicitation like this. But if you are going to be evaluating something, it should not be something you have a stake in yourself. Making sure you have that arm's reach away from it.

Letters of support are highly important and it should not just be a general letter from a police chief or someone like that that says, "Yes, I support this." That letter should indicate that this partnering agency understands what the research is, understands what their commitment is, understands what the point of this is, and what the "so what" is. [The agency should understand] all the implications that their data will be archived, all those kinds of things. We need to see those types of elements inside of a letter of support so that we understand that this really is an agency that is willing to work with you at the level that you need them to work with. And it’s not just someone that says, "Yeah, okay" and once you go to actually do the work, then things fall apart. We've had that happen before, so we're really looking for strong letters of support for this.

What will not be funded? As I said before in our technical merit review, unresponsive applications will not be funded. If it is duplicative or similar to other research that has been funded or conducted, [it will not be funded]. Again, inside of our solicitation, we kind of point to two of the major sources of other research that has been done. I believe another document is going to be released by one of our sister agencies here in the near future. If so, we will put that on the FAQ[s] page and tie it to the solicitation just for people's knowledge. NIJ does not fund applications to purchase equipment, materials, [and] supplies. We don't fund applications that are predominantly just for training and direct services unrelated to the project itself.

FAQs. The award amount in this case is $1 million. We have a few questions coming. That is $1 million for direct and indirect and that is the total amount. So you can have a period of performance of up to five years for this solicitation. But it's still only a total of $1 million no matter what period of performance. This is an off-cycle solicitation, so the timing of the award and non-award notifications might be slightly earlier. But what we traditionally say is, applicants will know at the end of this fiscal year, going into the start of the next fiscal year. So we're hopeful that we know before October 1, 2024, but we can guarantee that by then, a notification should be made.

Foreign entities. Whoever the applicant is, the company or the nonprofit for an NIJ award, must be US-based. The subrecipients and co-investigators is a different thing on the financial side. There have been some instances where subrecipients and co-investigators have been foreign, but they had to actually get a U.S. “doing business” address. I don't want to go too much into that because I'm not a lawyer and that just will get me in trouble. I would refer you back to the solicitation and it will describe it more in full. And if there are specific questions, I can make sure that those go through the Chief Financial Officer's Office or into the Office of General Counsel for clarity.

Also remember that filling out and submitting forms are highly required. All of this work obviously needs to be priority approved. DOJ still falls under the old rules for human subjects [research]. We have not signed on to the newer rule set yet, so make sure to visit NIJ's website and familiarize yourself or re-familiarize yourself with the old rules for human subjects' protection and IRBs. If you are a new investigator, make sure to clearly indicate that you are a new investigator and are applying as one for the solicitation.

If you have issues with Grants.gov or JustGrants, these are the phone numbers and email addresses for those [Slide 14]. Any questions you have about the solicitation should come into the OJP Response Center and they will then filter them down to me for responses.

Recommended resources. If you're new to OJP funding, I highly recommend you go into the Funding Resource Center. There's a lot of great documents and stepping through how to go through our process. Also, you're going to want to familiarize yourself with the DOJ Grants Financial Guide, what is allowed and what isn't allowed, and how to submit different forms. NIJ Funding FAQs. That —is specific to what NIJ funds. We are the research arm for DOJ, so our money is intended for research and, again, this will go into all of those types of topics. That does bring us up to Q&A, so I'm going to have Jill pop on.

DR. JILLIAN BARNAS: Do you know if any law enforcement agencies have implemented Naloxone Leave Behind (NLB) programs?

DR. JOEL HUNT: So I am not familiar with any of them implementing any NLBs. I'm still catching up. My hope is that if any of them have, they would have been captured in the research that I referenced with BJA's COSSAP program in the solicitation. Odds are that if it has, COSSAP would know about it or I believe the other one was called TASK. I would check in those two locations. Then someone asked that if it's just one award, we do anticipate only one award for up to $1 million.

DR. JILLIAN BARNAS: There's another question. It says, “Does NIJ have a priority region or jurisdiction size for the solicitation?”

DR. JOEL HUNT: No. We're very open on this one. But I think the short answer is no. The information we do know between TASK and COSSAP kind of lays out part of the story that there is still such a dearth of information that hopefully people are proposing a means that can account for regions and size and things like that. We don't have any specific or priority [preference] for rural versus urban or region of the country.

Someone asked also, "What projects have been awarded previously?" So BJA has made the vast majority of awards in this area that's been funded by DOJ, to the best of my knowledge. I would recommend going to the COSSAP page. And then for non-federally funded, I would go to, I believe, what's called the TASK Center or something like that. It's also referenced in the solicitation.

Someone asked, "What is the expected scope for the research? Would the analysis of law enforcement in one state be enough or are you thinking multiple states and regions?" So we really try not to get too specific. We don't want to be prescriptive. We don't want [to] stifle innovation. We're going to leave that really open to the applicants and part of the evaluation will be what do we think will provide the most and the best knowledge for this research topic. So another question did come in. "Do you have a priority preference for existing program evaluation, descriptive research, or a trial?" Again, we've intentionally left this extremely open and vague, not putting in any priority preferences on these. It's again, trying to give applicants that ability to be creative, to come up with a plan that will provide as much knowledge as possible. Under the physical constraints, we do realize at the end of the day, this is a $1 million effort.

STACY LEE: I had one come up to me. Is there a webpage to view similar prior awards that may be available?

DR. JOEL HUNT: I think the closest thing at this point would be the BJA COSSUP page. When we do the FAQs, I'll make sure to have a link that we can add to the FAQ[s] page that points back to the COSSAP because I don't know if that direct link is in the solicitation or not.

DR. NANCY LA VIGNE: But to all: that's describing the COSSUP program, not what a research project would look like.

DR. JOEL HUNT: But I thought on the COSSUP page, they listed all the places they've been and some of the things they have done.

DR. NANCY LA VIGNE: Yes, they do.

DR. JOEL HUNT: Someone asked, "Will these slides be made available?"


DR. JOEL HUNT: In chat, Daryl has put in examples of successful applications from past years from COSSUP. It's an actual page. He's provided a link (https://bja.ojp.gov/program/cossup/about#examples-of-successful-applications-from-past-years) that we'll also make sure it goes into FAQs and we believe there's a document either currently available or soon to be available that will also be added to the FAQ[s] page.

DR. JILLIAN BARNAS: We got another question in the chat. “I wanted to reconfirm, I believe you indicated that the total amount would be available up to five years. Will the total amount be available for a shorter duration?”

DR. JOEL HUNT: It's a total of $1 million and if you could do all the work in one year, and you want to propose doing all the work in one year, that is your prerogative. If you say it's going to take you five years to do all of that work for $1 million, [that is your prerogative]. That's part of the consideration, how timely the information will be and how complete the information will be. So anywhere up to five years.

DR. NANCY LA VIGNE: I just put a link (https://portal.cops.usdoj.gov/resourcecenter/RIC/Publications/cops-p356-pub.pdf) in the chat of a COPS report, a publication on law enforcement responses to the opioid crisis that might be a good resource for focus as well. Just trying to be helpful here. I'm not saying that you must use that or that proposals that refer to it will be more competitive than those that do not.

DR. JOEL HUNT: "Does law enforcement psychological response fit within the scope?" I’m not exactly sure what you're referencing by psychological response. If you could elaborate? I'm assuming you mean if law enforcement officers bring a psychologist or psychiatrist to the scene of an overdose or to deal a family or the individual, I'm not sure what you mean. Reading chat message: “Fentanyl fear response.”. That is a new thing for me. Oh, the goal would be to mitigate fear. So this is really much more about their response to the overdose and to the individual and to the families than the officers themselves at this point. Would you agree with that, Nancy?

DR. NANCY LA VIGNE: I would. We're not looking at issues of risk of contamination by synthetic opioids. That could be a component of a study in addressing law enforcement fears that are well-documented by science as being unfounded. So educating them that those fears are not based on science as a way of securing their cooperation in training or responses to people who are experiencing opioid overdoses or their family members could be relevant. But that would not be at central component of a winning proposal.

DR. JOEL HUNT: And it's been asked again, our anticipation is we will only be funding one awardee, one project. It might be in multiple sites but it's only going to be one awardee that may have subawardees, but it's just one grant.

DR. NANCY LA VIGNE: Unless the Director decides otherwise.

DR. JOEL HUNT: Yes, if multiple amazing applications come in, the Director does have the power to fund additional ones.

DR. NANCY LA VIGNE: But we're signaling that we want to select one robust response.

DR. JOEL HUNT: In case that hasn't become very clear, I am very fortunate that our Director is very knowledgeable on this topic. So, while I might be slightly newer to this topic, she is not.

DR. NANCY LA VIGNE: Don't overplay it, Joel. I’m interested in everything. And that's both a blessing and perhaps a curse depending on which staff person you ask at NIJ. However, I do see a question in the chat pertaining to equity and diversity. And that is indeed one of our key priorities at NIJ where we want to make sure that any proposal attends to issues of racial or ethnic disparities in the course of conducting the research, designing the research, scrutinizing the data sources for biases that might be baked into them. That isn't to say that we're inviting a proposal specifically to look at those issues but we absolutely think that a successful proposal will attend to those issues and dynamics.

STACY LEE: On behalf of the National Institute of Justice, thank you for joining today's webinar. This will end today's presentation.


Date Published: December 21, 2023