NIH funds study to reduce opioid related deaths by 40 percent over three years

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts conducted a survey in January 2019 indicating that more than a quarter of Massachusetts residents know someone who died of an opioid overdose. The state is not alone in its familiarity with the opioid crisis; the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that more than 130 people in the United States die from opioid overdoses each day. Mortality attributable to opioid use has increased dramatically over the past two decades. The opioid crisis has accelerated with the introduction of fentanyl, an opioid 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Improving access to addiction treatment

Only 20 percent of people with opioid use disorder (OUD) take, or have access to, approved medications to treat their condition including buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. In response to rising mortality and ever-widening treatment gaps, NIDA will support the NIH HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) Initiative, a $350 million multi-year program launched in 2018 designed to drive effective interventions to help affected communities and to create a standard for responding to the national crisis.

Under the initiative, NIDA will strengthen research to improve treatments for opioid addiction, implement behavioral interventions that can better assist with medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for OUD, and enhance approaches to pain management. The HEALing Communities Study will be centered at four sites: Boston Medical Center (BMC), Columbia University, University of Kentucky, and The Ohio State University.

emocha partner leads Massachusetts initiative

Dr. Jeffrey Samet, Chief of General Internal Medicine at BMC and an expert in addiction research and education, will lead the HEALing Communities study in Massachusetts. The study will collaborate with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and a dozen partner institutions in Massachusetts to investigate the impact of interventions including office-based addiction treatment (“OBAT”), the distribution of naloxone to treat OUD, the creation of addiction treatment programs in jails and prisons, and other prevention and intervention strategies.

BMC was awarded $89 million to support its role in the HEALing Communities study consortium. In an interview with Boston Medical Center, Dr. Samet emphasized that this effort will mean “pulling out all the stops:” taking prior learnings and building on them to “make a serious dent in the overdose death rate,” with the ultimate goal of reducing deaths from opioid overdoses by 40 percent in 16 severely affected communities over the next three years.

While the study’s objectives seem daunting, efforts are bolstered by optimism: “The inspiration that there’s hope is everywhere. It’s among those people who are in recovery,” Dr. Samet said in a video statement.

Jeffrey Samet, MD, MA, MPH serves as a scientific advisor to the pilot clinical trial under emocha’s NIDA-funded SBIR grant, and a member of emocha’s Scientific Advisory Board.