The Helping to End Addiction Long-term® Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative®, is an ambitious, multiyear effort to learn about the physical, mental, and societal impacts of the U.S. opioid crisis and to increase knowledge of effective, large-scale addiction treatment and support measures. According to the most recent population-wide study of drug use, more than 9.5 million people aged 12 or older in 2020 reported misusing opioids in the past year—so meaningful opioid misuse solutions will need to address health equity and diversity, mental health treatment, and alternative solutions for pain management. This initiative devotes millions of dollars to projects across the nation that are surveying and studying the public health impact of addiction, overdose treatment, and patient rehabilitation.
What Is Opioid Use Disorder?
Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a condition characterized by physical dependence on opioids—particularly illicit substances, such as heroin; synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl; and prescription opioids. OUD is a type of substance use disorder (SUD), a mental illness that affects a person’s biology as well as their behavior and leads them to lose control over consuming harmful substances such as alcohol, prescription medications, or illegal drugs. The advent and spread of fentanyl, an extremely powerful synthetic opioid with effects that are hundreds of times stronger than earlier compounds like oxycodone hydrochloride, and heroin, have further complicated the opioid crisis.
National Impact of Opioid Misuse and the Overdose Epidemic
Since 1999, the combined number of deaths due to intentional or unintentional opioid overdose has more than quadrupled in the U.S., and communities across the country are experiencing the fallout. In 2019, the number of deaths from opioid overdose rose to nearly 50,000, compared to 21,000 deaths in 2010. This relentless rise of opioid deaths has been linked to several factors; the NIH HEAL Initiative is aimed at deciphering each factor’s relative contribution and testing strategies for mitigating all factors.
Learn more about how RTI supports the NIH HEAL Initiative through the following projects:
- HEALing Communities Study
- Natural Observation Study to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Fentanyl Test Strip Strategies (Stay Safe Study)
- HEAL Prevention Cooperative (HPC)
- HEAL Initiative Data Stewardship
- HEAL Harm Reduction Policies, Practices, and Modes of Delivery Coordinating Center
- Assessing the Reach, Effectiveness, and Implementation of Multiple Harm Reduction Interventions
- Advancing Clinical Trials in Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (ACT NOW) Program: ACT NOW Longitudinal Study
- Eating, Sleeping, Consoling for Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal (ESC-NOW) Trial
- ACT NOW Trial to Shorten Pharmacologic Treatment of Newborns With NOWS (Weaning Trial)
- HEAL Evaluation of Limited Pharmacotherapies for Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome Trial (HELP for NOWS)