The Opioid Crisis and Pain Management

doctor embracing smiling recovering patient

The opioid crisis has evolved considerably, and dangerously. HEAL has continued to aggressively pursue research approaches that meet this public health challenge. The need is urgent:

  • Fifty million U.S. adults live with inadequate pain management.
  • Nearly 10 million Americans ages 12 and older misused opioids in the past year, and more than 2 million live with opioid addiction.
  • Approximately 107,000 people died from overdose in 2022, and 80% of those deaths were from opioids (including highly potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl and drug combinations with stimulants).
  • The nation’s mental health crisis has a significant impact on pain and addiction.

About the Opioid Crisis

Today’s opioid and overdose crisis began in the mid-1980s from inadequate pain treatment. The public health crisis of poorly managed pain, opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose in America is now in its fourth wave:

  • Prescription opioids were marketed aggressively to treat pain (1980s and 1990s)
  • Limited availability of prescription opioids turned people to use of heroin (mid 2010s).
  • Synthetic opioids like fentanyl flood the illicit market (late 2010s), causing an overdose crisis.
  • Many people now take multiple drugs, including stimulants (2023), and new threats continue to emerge.

The opioid crisis continues to evolve, and scientific solutions that meet the needs of people quickly and flexibly are needed more than ever. A significant, solvable problem is that most people who could benefit from treatment for opioid use disorder do not receive it. Changing this is a major focus of HEAL research.

Read Research Spotlights about HEAL research on opioid use disorder and treatment.

About Pain Management

Chronic pain can be complex, diverse, and hard to manage. Current treatments, such as opioids, are not effective for many people. While short-term, or acute, pain usually goes away as an injury heals, in some cases the pain from an injury, surgery, or disease process persists long beyond healing of the initial event. Sometimes, chronic pain lasts years or even a lifetime.

Pain can also affect mental health and may lead to conditions such as anxiety or depression. For many people, pain does not have any visible signs, sometimes leading people to doubt it exists. Changes to the body and brain that occur during the development of chronic pain are poorly understood. Understanding what drives these changes could lead to better management of acute pain.

Read Research Spotlights about HEAL research on pain management.