HHS announces $350M study aimed at creating 'blueprint' for curbing opioid abuse

The Trump administration is launching a $350 million study aimed at testing and measuring what strategies would be most effective at turning the tide on the opioid crisis. 

Communities in four states—Kentucky, Ohio, Massachusetts and New York—will be the beneficiaries of the HEALing Communities Study, a multiyear effort under a cooperative agreement supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Part of the NIH HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) Initiative, the study is aimed at better coordinating an integrated, community-based approach to treating substance use disorders. Officials said the goal is to show they can cut overdose deaths by 40% within three years in those select communities.

Researchers will study the impact of efforts such as integrating prevention, treatment and recovery interventions across primary care, behavioral health, justice and other settings. During a press conference, Francis Collins, M.D., director of the NIH, acknowledged there has already been plenty of research into how to best deal with addiction. 

Francis Collins - NIH Director
Francis Collins (National Institutes of Health)

This effort is different, he said.

"A lot of those studies that we have done have tended to be relatively circumscribed in a fairly well-studied environment and they haven't necessarily translated out into the communities ... certainly reaching rural communities has been particularly challenging," Collins said. "This program aims to change all that. This is real-world research. This is not ivory tower at all. And it's only going to work, and we're confident it is, because the communities have been part of designing these programs for these four states."

RELATED: HHS announces new payment model to help mothers addicted to opioids

The effort is among a number of initiatives announced by the Trump administration in the last year aimed at curbing opioid abuse. 

In October, HHS announced the Maternal Opioid Misuse—or MOM—model, which is a new payment system aimed at better addressing addiction among pregnant women and their exposed infants. HHS and the Drug Enforcement Agency also announced the easing of restrictions on providers using telemedicine to offer access to medication-assisted addiction treatment

HHS also formed a Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force, which released a draft report in January saying effective pain management needs to look beyond medications to manage pain such as physical therapy or alternative therapies, instead of simply finding alternatives to opioids. 

There have also been crackdowns on opioid prescribers through guidelines to adjust lawful prescribing patterns as well as through arrests by the Justice Department of doctors accused of unlawfully prescribing opioids. On Wednesday, the DOJ announced a sting operation that ensnared 53 medical professionals who were providing opioids illegally, some in exchange for cash and sex.