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Opioids – Digital Media Kit
In this kit:
Opioids are a class of drugs that include pain relievers available legally by prescription, the illegal drug heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. These drugs activate opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. Opioid pain relievers can be effective in treatment for relieving pain. However, regular use can lead to dependence, and misuse of opioid pain relievers can lead to dependence, addiction, overdose incidents and possibly, death.
Paralleling a rapid increase in rates of opioid pain reliever prescribing, which is now showing early signs of abating, widespread use and misuse of these medications has risen at an alarming rate, giving way to a nation-wide crisis. Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that an estimated 1.7 million people in the United States suffer from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain medicines in 2017, the most recent year for which data are available. For people under 50 years of age, drug overdose was the leading cause of death as of 2016.
NIH conducts and supports extensive research on pain management, and drug use and misuse. While the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) leads NIH research efforts on drug use, misuse, and addiction, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) leads NIH research efforts on pain, many of NIH’s Institutes and Centers are involved in these research areas.
In April 2017, NIH announced the HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-termSM) Initiative, an trans-agency effort to speed scientific solutions to stem the national opioid public health crisis. The NIH HEAL InitiativeSM will bolster research to accelerate the development of innovative medications to treat opioid addiction, explore non-addictive interventions for chronic pain, and improve overdose prevention and treatment strategies, including research into additional overdose reversal medications and breathing stimulation devices. This initiative will engage both academic researchers and the private sector to increase efficient clinical translation of research.
Chronic pain is a major public health problem that affects an estimated 100 million American adults, approximately one third of the U.S. population. It is the primary reason Americans are on disability and unable to work, and is a top reason cited for seeking medical care. Although opioids may not always be the best course of treatment for chronic pain, the number of prescriptions for opioid pain relievers has increased dramatically in recent years.
NIH Institutes and Centers support multifaceted research—from pain management to addiction prevention and treatment—to address the opioid crisis. The NIH Research, Condition, and Disease Categorization (RCDC) tracks official NIH funding amounts for opioid and pain-related research in three relevant categories: Prescription Drug Abuse, Pain, and Chronic Pain. NIH received an additional $500 million from Congress for use in fiscal years 2018 and 2019 aimed at addressing both opioid addiction and pain, which is included in the above categories.
As the primary funder for drug abuse research, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) supports research pertaining to opioid use disorders that includes basic research on addiction, community prevention frameworks, testing of sustainable treatment models, and methods to integrate behavioral interventions with medication assisted therapy. As part of the HEAL Initiative, NIDA is focused on expanding therapeutic options for opioid addiction, overdose prevention and reversal and enhancing treatments for infants born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)/Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS). NIDA is also working to develop new or improved prevention and treatment strategies for addiction, and optimize effective treatment strategies for opioid addiction.
Given the need to improve pain treatments with less reliance on opioids, NIH funds a wide range of basic, translational, and clinical and studies on pain. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) leads trans-NIH efforts to encourage and coordinate programs and activities on pain research. From examining the nervous system’s role in pain, to using complementary and integrative health approaches to treat pain, NIH encourages inter- and multi- disciplinary approaches to better address the challenges of treating pain. As part of the HEAL Initiative, NINDS leads efforts to understand the biological underpinnings of chronic pain and establish the best pain management strategies for acute and chronic pain conditions. NINDS also works to accelerate the discovery and pre-clinical development of non-addictive pain treatments, and advance new non-addictive pain treatments through the clinical pipeline.
An integral part of NIH’s larger pain research agenda is the NIH Pain Consortium, activities and programs which currently are coordinated by the Office of Pain Policy, within the Office of the Director at NINDS. Established to enhance research and collaboration on pain activities across NIH’s 27 Institutes and Centers, the Consortium is responsible for coordinating pain research at the NIH, identifying opportunities in pain research, increasing visibility of pain research among the NIH and the larger scientific community, and curriculum resources for health professional schools.
In addition to the Consortium, NIH serves as the lead of the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee, a congressionally-mandated committee comprised of federal agency and department representatives, pain researchers and patient advocates. The committee oversaw the development of the National Pain Strategy, the federal government’s first coordinated plan for reducing the burden of chronic pain for the millions of affected Americans, and the Federal Pain Research Strategy, a component of the National Pain Strategy that identifies and prioritized research recommendations as a basis for a long-term strategic plan to coordinate and advance the federal pain research agenda.
NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow and NINDS Director Dr. Walter Koroshetz talk about opioids, the opioid crisis, chronic pain and the NIH public-private partnership to help fight the crisis. If you would like the files of the video clips, please contact Wally Akinso.
This page last reviewed on March 20, 2019