US HHS Invests $350M Research to Address Opioid Epidemic

Prescription pain-killers—opioid-based treatments—were responsible for approximately 47,600 deaths in the United States, in 2017. According to government figures, there was only a small drop last year, which means that street drugs like heroin and its even more potent clinical cousin—the prescription strength—fentanyl are now among the deadliest drugs in the country. 

With that city governments all over the United States are working to address the issue.  Indeed, the United States National Institutes of Health have a plan to award research $350 million in grants to sites in Massachusetts, Ohio, Kentucky, and New York. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said that these grants will go towards research conducted by Columbia University (in NYC), Ohio State University, the University of Kentucky, and Boston Medical Center.

In all, the plan intends to work at least 15 communities that have been hit the hardest by the opioid crisis, with the goal of measuring how the integration of prevention, treatment, and recovery interventions can help to quell the overdose epidemic. Primarily, they expect they will examine how behavioral health, unemployment, and the US criminal justice system contribute to the overall crisis; and they also intend to measure the efficacy of prevention and treatment methods that are already in place. This could include things like the distribution of anti-overdose interventions to schools and police officers and other first responders. 

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar notes, “The most important work to combat our country’s opioid crisis is happening in local communities.  We believe this effort will show that truly dramatic and material reductions in overdose deaths are possible, and provide lessons and models for other communities to adopt and emulate.”

Azar goes on to notes that planned funding for this study is not going to be impacted by potential NIH budget cuts. 

In addition, Dr. Alysse Wurcel, of Tufts University Medical Center (in Boston) comments “We are in such a period of crisis that we need to know in real time what is working and what is not working.”  Dr. Wurcel is a member of the group working on opioids at the Infectious Disease Society of America. 

The study is supported in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.