In 2018, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the Helping to End Addiction Long-term® Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative®, to find scientific solutions for the opioid public health emergency.
Drivers of opioid use disorder and overdose deaths have evolved considerably over four decades. The drug overdose crisis began 40 years ago, driven by heroin and crack/cocaine use. In the 1990s, it was fueled by widespread overprescribing of opioids for pain management.
The public health crisis of opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose deaths in America has seen recent dramatic increases driven by polydrug use and powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. This situation has led to significant reductions in appropriate opioid prescribing for pain at a time when safer and effective pain management strategies are not available to millions of Americans who live with pain. To inform strategies that address the evolving opioid crisis, HEAL has two main goals:
- Improving the understanding, management, and treatment of pain
- Improving the prevention and treatment of opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose
HEAL research addresses urgent unmet needs across the lifespan – from infancy to adulthood. It encompasses prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery support approaches for people at risk for or with opioid use disorder, as well as prevention and management of pain, with the goal of developing evidence-based strategies capable of providing rapid and lasting solutions to the opioid crisis.