alec stone
Alec Stone MA, MPA, ONS Public Affairs Director

Designated as a national epidemic, opioid addiction and abuse are front and center at the federal level as lawmakers work to support the discovery of new treatments and resources to curb the growing problem.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), with support from the White House, Congress, and the Department of Health and Human Services, awarded $945 million in funding for grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements across 41 states for the Helping to End Addiction Long-Term (HEAL) Initiative. Targeting novel chronic pain interventions, opioid abuse, and the addiction crisis, the HEAL Initiative will funnel funding and resources into efforts that can make an impact immediately and in the future for healthcare providers and their patients.

“It’s clear that a multipronged 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,” NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, said. “This unprecedented investment in the NIH HEAL Initiative demonstrates the commitment to reversing this devastating crisis.”

By working with multiple federal institutes and research entities, NIH will leverage the healthcare community’s expertise to tackle the nation’s opioid issues. Areas of focus include:

  • Implementing research to practice for opioid addiction treatment
  • Developing new strategies to prevent and treat opioid addiction
  • Enhancing outcomes for infants and children exposed to opioids
  • Finding novel medication options for opioid use disorder and overdose
  • Furthering clinical research for pain management
  • Exploring preclinical and translational research in pain management

As HEAL begins to reach communities, creators of the initiative hope it addresses many of the problems that addiction represents. By monitoring the outcomes, NIH will learn more about whether appropriate treatment is reaching the right people, which treatment plans are right for addiction, and what levels of pain are associated with addiction and treatment.

Through research and evidence-based interventions, NIH’s new information and tactics will be implemented throughout local communities, the justice system, and medical arenas. However, HEAL’s goal is also to find new ways to address pain and addiction prevention without negatively impacting those who truly need chronic pain management.

“We need to ensure that people with chronic pain have effective treatment options that don’t expose them to the risk of opioids,” Rebecca Baker, PhD, NIH HEAL Initiative director, said. “Preventing opioid misuse and addiction through enhanced pain management and improving treatments for OUD and addiction are both critical parts of our trans-NIH response to the opioid crisis.”