New NIH initiative targets opioids

HEAL Initiative aimed at improving opioid misuse, addiction treatment, and pain management

Equipped with $500 million from Congress, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the launch of the HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) Initiative. According to its research plan, HEAL will work towards providing “scientific solutions to the national opioid crisis and [offering] new hope for individuals, families, and communities affected by this devastating crisis.”

Pharmacists should be aware that the initiative will focus on improving treatments for opioid misuse and addiction, and enhancing pain management. Its main researchers will be the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Short-term deliverables, such as a comprehensive data set of chronic pain predicators and medication-assisted treatment implementation strategies, are expected to take from 3 to 5 years. Long-term deliverables, such as 15 investigational new drugs with five new drug applications submitted to FDA, are expected to take over 5 years.

Among the efforts to be completed, NIDA will take on four projects aimed at developing and reformulating addiction treatments, as well as improving access to addiction treatments in hard-hit areas, like rural communities.

“A great tragedy of the opioid crisis is that so many effective tools already exist but are not being deployed effectively in communities that need them,” Nora Volkow, MD, director of NIDA, wrote on her blog.

HEAL will also assess effective practices and conduct clinical trials for infants born with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS). According to NIDA, one baby suffering from opioid withdrawal is born every 25 minutes.

As for NINDS, it will lead research in pain management. Its efforts will include developing nonaddictive pain treatments, understanding acute and chronic pain, and creating objective biological indicators of pain.

“With 25 million people experiencing daily chronic pain in the U.S., it is imperative that we support research to advance both our understanding of the underlying condition and develop better treatments for those suffering,” Walter Koroshetz, MD, director of NINDS, wrote in a “Director’s Message” posting.

For more information on the HEAL initiative, visit the NIH website.