Research Concepts

A Research Concept describes the basic purpose, scope, and objectives of a potential solicitation of grants or contracts. Current concepts under development are listed below to alert researchers to areas of NIH HEAL Initiative research interest and to give researchers maximal lead time to plan projects. Past concepts that have converted to funding opportunities (FOAs) can be found at the bottom of the page. Please note that not every concept will lead to a FOA. The NIH HEAL Initiative bases this determination on scientific and programmatic priorities and the availability of funds, and a FOA may also differ in certain details from its originating concept. Please visit this page often for updates, subscribe to the HEAL Digest for updates, and view current (open) and past (closed) HEAL FOAs.

Research Concepts on this page:

Translation of Research to Practice for the Treatment of Opioid Addiction

Workforce Interventions to Improve Addiction Care Quality and Patient Outcome        

This concept aims to design and test workforce interventions that could lead to improved care quality and patient outcomes. It will support research to better understand dynamics that influence workforce recruitment, training, performance, and retention – an important aim since the demand for addiction counselors could dramatically exceed supply by approximately 38% in 2030, a shortage of nearly 35,000 workers.

Contacts: Tisha Wiley, Wendy Weber

Career Development Awards in Addiction Implementation Science             

This concept will provide an opportunity for early career scientists or early career clinicians with foundational backgrounds in addiction to develop expertise in implementation science, including conducting a research project incorporating at least one of the four priority domains of the HHS Overdose Prevention Strategy: primary prevention (including appropriate opioid prescribing), opioid use disorder treatment, harm reduction, and recovery support services. This research aims to build a cadre of implementation researchers who can contribute to addressing the current overdose crisis, develop research careers that will impact the quality of clinical practice generally, and become the next generation of implementation experts and mentors.

Contacts: Tisha Wiley, Wendy Weber

Research to Foster an Opioid Use Disorder Treatment System Patients Can Count On

This concept will leverage existing quality measurement efforts to advance the field of addiction science to help patients, families, and payers identify effective providers and promote improvements in patient outcomes. This research will support research centers consisting of partnerships between researchers and payors, health plans, single state agencies/opioid treatment authorities, professional organizations, or other entities who can deploy a quality measurement and management system to inform provider or clinician selection and treatment improvement.

Contacts: Tisha Wiley, Wendy Weber

Addressing Exposure to Violence and Trauma in the Context of Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Services

This concept aims to address exposure to violence and related trauma among individuals with substance use disorders, for whom integrated services are lacking. This research will adapt the Optimizing Care for People with Opioid Use Disorder and Mental Health Conditions research approach that tests the adaptation, effectiveness, adoption, scalability, and sustainability of collaborative care to include exposure to violence and trauma – as well as extend the focus of research beyond primary care settings to include recovery and substance use disorder treatment settings.

Contacts: Tisha Wiley, Wendy Weber

New Strategies to Prevent and Treat Opioid Addiction

Sleep and Circadian Predictors of Opioid Use Disorder Treatment Response and Outcomes

This concept proposes a data science approach to evaluate and integrate sleep- and circadian-based behavioral, physiological, and molecular phenotypes predictive of opioid use disorder treatment outcomes. The goal is to produce a predictive model of opioid use disorder outcomes based on sleep and circadian indicators that helps to identify potential intervention targets to prevent relapse and enhance the effectiveness of opioid use disorder treatment.

Contacts: Geetha Subramaniam, Alex Talkovsky

Evidence Based Prevention Interventions in Community Health Centers

This concept aims to develop and test strategies for providing improved access to preventative intervention services for patients served by community health centers (CHCs). These locations are well positioned to serve as a formal point of entry into evidence-based opioid misuse prevention services because they reach large numbers of people affected by the opioid crisis and are situated across the nation in low-resourced areas. The research will focus on primary prevention strategies for opioid misuse as well as enhance risk screening processes in CHCs.

Contacts: Geetha Subramaniam, Alex Talkovsky

Enhanced Outcomes for Infants and Children Exposed to Opioids

Neonatal and Infant Imaging and Placenta Function            

This concept addresses the need to understand how opioid exposure, alone or in combination with other substances (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana), during pregnancy can influence placental function and brain development. Brain development during the fetal, neonatal, and infancy periods is highly plastic and susceptible to environmental influences, including maternal substance use, nutrition, and environmental adversity. Despite longstanding knowledge that the placenta is a critical organ in fetal development, there is limited knowledge about how opioid use by pregnant women affects placental function to influence and alter fetal brain development.

Contacts: Michelle Freund, Drew Bremer

Remote Assessments

This concept will build upon the pandemic-invoked deployment and acceptance of remote technology interactions, with the goal of transitioning data collection thoughtfully and systematically out of traditional lab-based settings into homes. This research aims to enhance inclusion of study populations by expanding its representativeness and lowering the burden of families to participate in clinical neuroscience research studies. It will establish validated ways to virtually measure sociocultural, biobehavioral, and environmental factors, such as substance use exposures.

Contacts: Michelle Freund, Drew Bremer

Novel Therapeutic Options for Opioid Use Disorder and Overdose

Therapeutics Development for Comorbid Opioid Use Disorder and Stress-Related Mental Disorders

This concept will broaden the scope of addiction treatment development, integrating stress-related psychiatric comorbidities and substance use disorders together into therapeutics development. Stress is common in people who develop substance use disorders and stress-related mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, including post-traumatic stress disorder. These stress-related comorbidities are not currently integrated into the therapeutics clinical development path. This research will assess standalone treatment options as well as combinations of a pharmacotherapy and neuromodulation, toward meeting the needs of complex patient populations.

Contacts: Ivan Montoya, Kentner Singleton

Oral Complications Arising from Oral Buprenorphine Use

This concept will support basic science research to understand the oral cavity biochemical environment during oral buprenorphine use. This research also aims to elucidate the role of microbial flora and salivary proteins in the development and progression of reported oral complications to buprenorphine. There is limited scientific literature to describe oral complications of buprenorphine use, and different etiologies may contribute to these reported problems.

Contacts: Ivan Montoya, Kentner Singleton

Addressing the Public Health Impact of New and Emerging Opioid Threats             

This concept aims to address the urgent need to understand emerging opioid threats, including toxicology of these new substances. The research aims to enlist the help of toxicologists, medical examiners, and biomedical assay developers, in addition to pharmacologists, emergency department physicians, and addiction specialists. This research aims to provide rapidly delivered, actionable information for public health professionals and policy makers about the dangers of new threats and their impact on opioid addiction and overdose treatments, as well as on resulting illness and death.

Contacts: Linda Porter, Jane Atkinson

Clinical Research in Pain Management

Coordinated Pain Care in Health Care Systems

This proposed concept will support research projects to embed effective coordinated pain care into health care systems. The goal is to improve pain relief and health outcomes through coordinated interventions such as medication or injections provided by a single health care provider. The coordinated care strategy could be centered in primary care settings with an integrated referral system to specialty care or could be centered in specialty care programs and coordinated with primary care.

Contacts: Linda Porter, Jane Atkinson

Chronic Pain Management in Rural Populations

This concept aims to accelerate the use of evidence-based non-opioid chronic pain interventions in rural and remote communities with health disparities. Compared to people in non-rural areas, rural residents are more likely to be prescribed an opioid pain medication and less likely to use pain self-management approaches. The program will leverage the existing Pragmatic and Implementation Studies for the Management of Pain to Reduce Opioid Prescribing (PRISM) Resource Coordinating Center to provide expertise and technical support.

Contacts: Linda Porter, Jane Atkinson       

Multilevel Interventions to Reduce Harm and Improve Quality of Life for Patients on Long Term Opioid Therapy

This concept addresses the needs of individuals on long-term opioid therapy who underwent aggressive tapering beyond federal guideline recommendations. Such patients have become opioid dependent (but don’t meet criteria for opioid use disorder) and do not have sufficient pain relief. With unclear treatment plans, these patients have fallen through the cracks of the American health care system. This research will develop multi-level interventions targeting patients, providers/pharmacists, and health systems. It aims to strengthen the evidence for best for tapering practices that are tailored, flexible, and patient centered.

Contacts: Linda Porter, Jane Atkinson

Preclinical and Translational Research in Pain Management

Clinical Translation of Diagnostic and Therapeutic Devices via Blueprint MedTech    

This concept will facilitate clinical translation of diagnostic and therapeutic devices to treat pain and opioid use disorder. It will operate through the existing Blueprint MedTech program, an NIH incubator that catalyzes the translation of novel neurotechnologies from early-stage development to first-in-human clinical studies. The program will support grantees by providing commercialization, verification, and validation resources. The goal is to develop and de-risk technologies to the point where additional investments are warranted from industry partners, investors, and government.

Contacts: Michael Oshinsky, Christine Colvis

Integrated Basic and Clinical Research in Pain

This concept will support both clinical and preclinical pain research within one research study and grant. The goal is to understand the biology of specific human pain conditions as well as pain associated with diverse diseases/disorders, including devising ways to differentiate and stratify patients with specific pain conditions and co-morbidities. This concept will also enhance the pain workforce through investigators’ exposure to multidisciplinary pain research including clinical pain management and research, preclinical/basic pain biology and modeling, human psychology, specific disease and/or pathological conditions, animal behavior, and data science.

Contacts: Michael Oshinsky, Christine Colvis

Development and Validation of Animal Models and Outcome Measures for Pain

This concept will facilitate rigorous validation of animal models and/or endpoints for both pain biology studies and therapeutics development at all stages. Studies on small, medium, and large animal pain models and associated outcome measures will identify species differences in pain biology that could meaningfully inform human pain mechanisms and pain conditions. Through independent replication studies, this research will strengthen confidence in the use of animal models for pain research.

Contact: [email protected]

Past Concepts

These past concepts have converted to funding opportunities (see links).

Actionable Data to Inform Research‐Driven Decisions (Data2Action)

This concept aims to attract researchers who have data in hand and new or existing tools or methods to conduct predictive analyses to 1) use data sources that are accessible and analyzed on a timescale allowing for predictive and proactive responses, and 2) leverage partnerships with key stakeholders to turn research results directly toward decisions and implementation. The goal is to obtain actionable data to provide a precise picture of trends in opioid use and overdose in communities, toward facilitating responses at national, state, and local levels.

Contact: Tisha Wiley

Funding Opportunities:

Research Adoption Partnerships

This concept aims to build partnerships among researchers and public/private sector stakeholders to help overcome barriers to adopting evidence‐based practices for preventing and treating opioid use disorder. It will establish a national resource center to promote equitable dissemination and implementation of evidence‐based practices addressing the opioid crisis. The concept will leverage partnerships with stakeholders, existing infrastructure, and implementation experts, as well as conduct original trials of implementation strategies within multiple systems of care.

Contact: Tisha Wiley

Funding Opportunities:

Understanding Polysubstance Use and Improving Addiction Service Delivery

This concept proposes to support research related to polysubstance use in which individuals use multiple substances and have one or more substance use disorders. The research aims to expand understanding about the dynamics of polysubstance use, examine impacts of existing policies and services on services and treatment outcomes, study personalized treatment and services approaches to address polysubstance use, and develop effective strategies for using existing treatments most effectively to address the needs of polysubstance use patients. This research is timely given trends suggesting that responses to the evolving opioid crisis should more holistically consider the variety of substances people use simultaneously.

Contact: Tisha Wiley

Funding Opportunity:

Recovery Support Services for People Treated with Medications for Opioid Use Disorder 

This concept aims to build resources for research on recovery support. Areas of interest include infrastructure support to advance the development of efficacy and/or effectiveness research, as well as pilot and preliminary research in preparation for rigorous clinical efficacy or effectiveness trials of recovery support services or combinations of those services for individuals who take medications for the treatment of opioid use disorder. Relevant approaches may address infrastructure gaps or test a wide range of recovery support services (or combinations of those services) where rigorous evidence of efficacy and effectiveness is lacking.

Contact: Tisha Wiley

Funding Opportunities:

Harm Reduction Policies, Practices, and Modes of Delivery for People with Substance Use Disorders

This concept proposes to support research related to harm reduction. Areas of interest include developing, testing, and implementing new and existing strategies; expanding settings for their use and delivery; and examining the impact of new harm reduction policies implemented at state and local levels. Examples of established harm reduction approaches include naloxone, fentanyl test strips, safer smoking equipment, and sterile syringes, as well as HIV and hepatitis C virus testing.

Contact: Tisha Wiley

Funding Opportunities:

Social Determinants of Opioid Use: Opportunities for Community- and System-Level Interventions

This concept will leverage existing research programs that target identified social determinants (e.g., housing, employment) and study the effects of adding psychosocial and/or behavioral interventions, with the goal of more directly addressing mechanisms related to opioid misuse and related outcomes. Projects are expected to specify and study mechanistic pathways through which interventions confer their effects. The primary goal of these studies would be to test the impact of multi-level strategies that directly address social determinants of health on risk for opioid use and related outcomes.

Contact: Aria Davis Crump

Funding Opportunity:

Neonatal and Infant Imaging and Placenta Function            

This concept addresses the need to understand how opioid exposure, alone or in combination with other substances (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana), during pregnancy can influence placental function and brain development. Brain development during the fetal, neonatal, and infancy periods is highly plastic and susceptible to environmental influences, including maternal substance use, nutrition, and environmental adversity. Despite longstanding knowledge that the placenta is a critical organ in fetal development, there is limited knowledge about how opioid use by pregnant women affects placental function to influence and alter fetal brain development.

Contacts: Michelle Freund, Drew Bremer

Remote Assessments

This concept will build upon the pandemic-invoked deployment and acceptance of remote technology interactions, with the goal of transitioning data collection thoughtfully and systematically out of traditional lab-based settings into homes. This research aims to enhance inclusion of study populations by expanding its representativeness and lowering the burden of families to participate in clinical neuroscience research studies. It will establish validated ways to virtually measure sociocultural, biobehavioral and environmental factors, such as substance use exposures.

Contacts: Michelle Freund, Drew Bremer

Medications Development for Opioid Use Disorder and Opioid Overdose 

This concept is to support research to advance development for FDA approval of safe and effective medications to treat and prevent overdose among individuals with concomitant use of opioids with stimulants (methamphetamine and cocaine) and other substances. Treatment for polysubstance use disorder is a public health priority, given the current alarming trends in morbidity and mortality from opioids and other substances, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 40% of opioid-involved overdose deaths also involved stimulants, including methamphetamine or cocaine.

Contact: Ivan Montoya

Funding Opportunities:

Enhancing the Clinical Pain Management Workforce Initiative

This proposed concept will promote the expansion and enhancement of a diverse workforce of highly trained scientists in clinical pain research through a nationwide mentoring and networking program. It will provide mentoring and skills necessary to support practitioners who seek a career in clinical pain management research. Another goal is to create an environment where early-stage clinical pain researchers can connect and collaborate with early and experienced basic and translational researchers through a centralized network and sponsored events.

Contact: Linda Porter

Funding Opportunities:

Advancing Health Equity

These proposed concepts will support research projects to develop, test, and implement novel, culturally appropriate pain interventions and/or adapt, test, and evaluate efficacy and effectiveness of existing pain interventions, in populations that disproportionately experience negative health outcomes. Desired outcomes of these interventions include reduction of pain and pain-related symptoms, and improvement in overall health outcomes, including function and quality of life. Interventions that target populations that experience health disparities with chronic pain in addition to at least one comorbid condition (opioid use disorder, mental health disorders, and/or chronic health conditions) are of the highest priority.

Contact: Cheryse Sankar

Funding Opportunities:

Translational Training Awards in Pain and Addiction Research

This concept will provide early- and mid-career scientists who have pain or opioid misuse expertise with hands-on training in translation in industry, academia, or government research laboratories. The jointly prepared research experience plan will be centered around the development of a therapeutic to treat pain or addiction, and the trainee will be expected to receive broad exposure to therapy development, while the translational institution will benefit from the trainee’s pain or addiction domain expertise.

Contact: Christine Colvis

Funding Opportunity:

Pain Target Discovery and Validation Initiative

This concept will promote the discovery and validation of novel therapeutic targets to facilitate the development of pain therapeutics. It focuses on the basic science validation of targets in the peripheral nervous system, central nervous system, immune system, or other tissues in the body that can be used to develop analgesics that have minimal side effects and little to no misuse/addiction liability. Research projects must include rigorous validation studies to demonstrate the robustness of the target as a pain treatment target. The overall goal of this initiative is to lower the risk of adopting a new pain target in future translational projects to develop small molecules, biologics, natural substances, or devices that interact with this target for new pain treatments.

Contact: Michael Oshinsky

Funding Opportunity:

HEAL New Innovator Awards

This concept will support scientists with high-impact, outside-the-box ideas to find novel treatments for pain, opioid addiction, and overdose. Because effective treatment will require highly innovative ideas, transformative, boundary-pushing applications are often risky or at a stage too early to fare well in the traditional peer review process. The NIH HEAL Initiative-specific New Innovator Award will encourage fresh and original ideas from young investigators proposing research in areas within the HEAL mission.

Contact: Christine Colvis

Funding Opportunity:

Illuminating the Druggable Genome to Uncover New Targets for Treating Pain and Opioid Use Disorder

This concept will promote discovery of “dark” proteins in pain, addiction, and overdose by identifying and validating new targets for pain and opioid use disorder among the understudied proteins of the Druggable Genome. While the number of proteins in the Druggable Genome is upwards of 3,000, the existing clinical pharmacopeia has only a few hundred targets, leaving a huge swath of biology that remains unexplored. Many dark proteins have been linked to pain, pain perception, and opioid dependence.

Contact: Christine Colvis

Funding Opportunity:

Real‐World Data to Address Urgent Opioid Use Disorder/Substance Use Disorder Needs

This concept will encourage development of new methods and approaches to update and aggregate data from existing sources (e.g., electronic health records, claims data, registry data, pharmacy dispensing, and mortality records). Several challenges prevent efficient linking and leveraging of these existing “real world” data in ways that can be used to provide real‐time or near‐real time understanding of a constantly changing drug overdose epidemic. Increasing visibility of such data could provide new insights into the dynamics of substance use, addiction, recovery, and relapse.

Contact: Tisha Wiley

Funding Opportunities:

Wanted: New Ideas for a New Year

The NIH HEAL Initiative® announces several new funding opportunities and research concepts in harm reduction, polysubstance use, pain health disparities, recovery, and other areas relevant to the HEAL mission.

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NIH HEAL Initiative® Research

The NIH HEAL Initiative® is organized into six research focus areas. Within those focus areas are 28 research programs to find scientific solutions to the opioid crisis.

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NIH HEAL Initiative® Notices of Special Interest (NOSI) and Funding Opportunities

Search for new funding opportunities from the NIH HEAL initiative® and learn more about the more than 600 currently funded awards in HEAL’s 28 research programs.

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