Opioid Initiative

Opioid Initiative

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in April launched a major study to monitor and support a multi-discipline approach to combating the opioid addiction epidemic. A part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the agency said that more than $350 million would be made available for the initiative under a cooperative agreement supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which falls under the jurisdiction of the NIH.


Illinois Pain Institute is directly involved. Clinic principle Dr. John V. Prunskis is a standing member of the DHHS Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force, an advisory panel that is responsible for establishing best practices guidelines that will inform pain management clinicians around the country and define priorities for research and legislation.


Pain management clinicians have voted nine times for Dr. Prunskis to receive the Castle Connolly Top Pain Doctor Award. Dr. Prunskis is board certified in anesthesiology, pain management. When not seeing patients or advising the government, Dr. Prunskis works as a Clinical Professor at Chicago Medical School.


The government’s new approach to combating the opioid overdose epidemic embraces a multi-discipline, plug-the-gaps philosophy as a response to addiction. The Washington Post noted that there were frequent complaints that persons in addiction recovery could not find additional support for housing, employment, and health-related issues. These difficulties contributed to high rates of relapse, which put a severe strain on rehabilitative services. They also contributed significantly to high overdose rates.


The $350 million in funding will include $87 million for the University of Kentucky; $89 million for Boston Medical Center; $86 million for Columbia University and $65.9 million for Ohio State University.


The funding allows each of the schools to facilitate inter-agency approaches in 15 locations in their home state. This will link together law enforcement agencies, drug courts, social services and charity programs, including churches, to form networks of support for recovering addicts.


Several communities that have tried this comprehensive approach have come away with promising results. This prompted the government to support a large study that will facilitate the creation of support networks for addicts in each location.  It is hoped that working together will create a more cohesive and resilient response to the overdose epidemic.

”We don’t have to be intimidated by the scope and scale of this challenge,” said DHHS Secretary Alex Azar. “We can do it now,” he said.


The government called the approach “ambitious,” pointing out that the aim was to link together “a set of proven prevention and treatment interventions, such as the distribution of naloxone to reverse overdose.” The aim was also to steer individuals in the criminal justice system towards treatment options for opioid addiction.


The goal is certainly ambitious. DHHS said the target they hoped to reach was a 40 percent reduction in overdose deaths over three years.


They will have to reverse a trend. Overdose in the United States have soared in recent years, much of that attributed to the availability of fentanyl, an extremely powerful synthetic opioid that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says is 80 percent to 100 percent stronger than morphine.


CDC data shows 70,237 overdose deaths in the United States in 2017 with 67.8 percent of those, about 47,600 of them, linked to opioids.