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NIH awards $945 million in research funds to battle opioid epidemic


The funds will be disbursed through 375 awards in 41 states to accelerate research on ending the deadly opioid epidemic

opioid crisis

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the award of $945 million in 2019 funding to battle the opioid epidemic through the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative.

The research funds, split between 375 awards to 41 states, aim to improve the treatment of chronic pain, curb the rate of opioid use disorder (OUD) and overdose, as well as helping patients achieve long-term recovery from addiction, according to a news release from NIH.

The release says an estimated 50 million U.S. adults suffered from chronic pain in 2016, while two years later an estimated 10.3 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids in the United States.

“President Trump’s approach to the opioid crisis and HHS’s strategy have both been based in the best science we have,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar says in the release. “We have effective tools, such as medication-assisted treatment, but we still need better ways to treat opioid addiction and manage pain in an effective, personalized way. This historic investment by NIH was made possible by funding secured from Congress by President Trump, and will support our work in the current crisis and lay the work for a healthier future.”

The HEAL initiative seeks to leverage expertise from the various NIH institute and center to look at the opioid crisis from all angles and disciplines across the spectrum of research in the areas of translating research to practice for treating opioid addiction, creating new strategies to prevent and treat opioid addiction, enhancing outcomes for infants and children exposed to opioids, creating medication option for OUD and overdose, and researching pain management.

“It’s clear that a multi-pronged scientific approach is needed to reduce the risks of opioids, accelerate development of effective non-opioid therapies for pain and provide more flexible and effective options for treating addiction to opioids,” says NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, who launched the initiative in early 2018. “This unprecedented investment in the NIH HEAL Initiative demonstrates the commitment to reversing this devastating crisis.”

The release addresses specific problems that have arisen with the opioid epidemic and the scientific solutions the NIH HEAL Initiative is seeking to solve them, such as the fact that people with OUD don’t receive appropriate treatment.

To solve this the NIH HEALing Communities Study and Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network will seek to integrate evidence-based interventions into community, justice, and emergency department settings where people suffering OUD seek help and study which interventions or combination of interventions work best, the release said.

Another problem mentioned in the release is a physician’s need to control a patient’s pain while also avoiding the risks of long-term opioid therapy.

To solve this issue, the initiative is working to develop non-addictive medications for pain and test new models for care in the real world which includes a controlled trial of acupuncture for chronic lower back pain, the release said.

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Jennifer N. Lee, MD, FAAFP
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health