At the 2018 National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit today, National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins announced that the agency is launching the ‘Helping to End Addiction Long-term’ initiative.
The NIH expects to spend nearly $1.1 billion in 2018 on research dedicated to expanding treatment options for people who are addicted to opioids, Collins said.
“Every day, more than 115 Americans die after overdosing on opioids,” he explained in prepared remarks. “That is a four-fold increase since 2000, and the numbers continue to climb. NIH has been deeply invested in efforts to counter this crisis through research, but we are determined to do even more.”
As part of the initiative, the agency plans to launch a longitudinal study to follow patients after they report musculoskeletal pain and after they have surgery to identify people who are more likely to transition from acute to chronic pain. The NIH is also hoping to find better potential targets for new pain treatment methods.
Among other stated goals, the agency also hopes to create a clinical trials network that will allow opioid addiction therapies to be tested simultaneously, in an effort to eliminate ineffective compounds quickly and accelerate effective drugs into clinical trials.
The NIH will also launch pilot projects to assess integrating addiction prevention and treatment options into healthcare and criminal justice settings, focusing on states with the highest rates of opioid misuse and overdose. To improve treatment options, the agency said it is interested in funding development of immunotherapies that use the immune system to block the effects of heroin or synthetic opioids.
The NIH also wants to study the long-term impact of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome by expanding the Advancing Clinical Trials in Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome project.
“Science and technology have illuminated our understanding of the mechanisms underlying addiction,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said. “With these additional resources, we can develop more customized, high-quality treatments for addiction and pain, as well as harness implementation science to bring evidence-based changes to our healthcare system, including treatment for those in the criminal justice environment.”
“This nationwide crisis stemmed initially from over-prescribing of opioid medications to treat pain,” Dr. Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, added. “The HEAL Initiative will develop the scientific evidence that informs best practices to effectively treat patients with pain while preventing addiction. A major focus will be to understand why some people go from acute to chronic pain, with the intent to prevent that transition. Importantly, the initiative will drive the science to enable the development of powerful, non-addictive pain treatments that would limit the need for opioid medications in the future.”