Heads of NIH, NIDA provide details of $500 million per year HEAL Initiative announced at last year’s Summit – focus on pain management, treatment, prevention, recovery

ATLANTA (April 24, 2019) — Top health and science officials addressed the Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit yesterday with an update from their announcement at last year’s summit on $500 million per year in funding for the opioid crisis. 

Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) discussed how $850 million is being invested in Fiscal Year 2019 alone.

There have been 26 HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-Term) research projects, more than 40 funding announcements and the awarding last week of four grants for the HEALing Communities Study.

The goals of the HEAL Initiative are two-fold, Collins said, “To improve prevention and treatment strategies for opioid misuse and addiction; and enhance pain management.”

Collins stated that there currently is very little to offer the 25.3 million American adults who suffer from daily pain other than opioids. The NIH will focus on novel targets for pain treatment that are effective, not addictive. To do that, scientists need a better understanding of how people transition from acute to chronic pain.

It also has identified dozens of promising pain treatments that have been stuck in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, Volkow and NIDA will be working on expanding therapeutic options; optimizing treatment strategies; developing new and improved prevention and treatment strategies; and enhancing treatment of infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

“Solving the opioid crisis requires prevention of drug use,” Volkow said. “We need to address the source of addiction. What makes us vulnerable as a nation to drugs?”

 “The best prevention is providing meaningful social interactions.”

She pointed to a study of rats as an example. When given a choice, they choose social interaction over heroin. But when stressed (shocked), then the choice of heroin increases.

Volkow also warned of the “fourth” wave of addiction. First, it was prescription opioids, then heroin. The third wave was synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanyl. Now, there is a rise in use of stimulants combined with opioids.

But despite those challenges, she has hope of beating this epidemic.

“I am convinced we will solve it in the communities because we have each other, and we care about each other,” Volkow said.

Local communities are the key to another new initiative they discussed -- the HEALing Communities Study. Grants were awarded to The Ohio State University, Columbia University, Boston Medical Center and the University of Kentucky.

The study will generate evidence about how tools for preventing and treating opioid addiction are most effective at the local level with the ambitious goal of reducing opioid-related deaths by 40 percent over three years. The National Institutes of Health, together with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), launched this multisite implementation research study to test the impact of an integrated set of evidence-based interventions across healthcare, behavioral health, justice, and other community-based settings in both rural and urban areas that are highly affected by opioid use disorder.

You can learn more and follow along on the progress by visiting www.nih.gov/healing-communities and signing up for updates.

Founded in 2012, the Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit is now the largest national gathering of professionals from “federal to family:” local, state and, federal agencies, public health officials, business executives, academia, treatment providers, advocates, law enforcement, and family members working to find solutions that address the prescription drug abuse and misuse epidemic.

The 2019 program will deliver practical, evidence-based education and actionable takeaways in 12 key areas, from National Policy Action to Prevention Strategies.

To learn more about the Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit, visit rx-summit.com, and be sure to follow Rx Summit on Facebook and Twitter @RxSummit, using hashtag #RxSummit2019.

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