New NIH Budget Commits $500M to Addiction

Congress approved $500 million in funds to focus on improving treatments for opioid misuse and addiction and bolster strategies to manage pain.

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The agency’s responsiveness to the drug epidemic and its cooperation with policymakers and elected representatives is encouraging and reflects the positive impact of grassroots activism.

$500 million of the new budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is earmarked for addiction. NIH leaders published an outline earlier this month describing how the nation’s medical research agency will use the money to fight the opioid epidemic.

Congress approved $500 million in funds to focus on improving treatments for opioid misuse and addiction and bolster strategies to manage pain. An opinion piece published in the American Medical Association’s JAMA described the reasoning behind the strategy.

NIHThe piece, written by NIH Director Francis Collins; Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; and Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said, “Like most other pioneering scientific initiatives, HEAL will focus on a range of objectives, from short-term goals to research priorities that will take longer to bear fruit,” the trio wrote. “Yet, all will be aimed at the same ultimate vision: a nation of people with far less disabling pain and opioid addiction.”

NIH says that more than 25 million American adults have daily pain, and more than 2 million have an opioid addiction. Lawmakers and the administration are examining measures to stem this tide, both locally and nationally. Some suggestions have centered around developing non-addictive ways to curb pain, so the number of patients prescribed opioids can decrease.

This is important because it acknowledges the link between opioid addiction and prescription painkillers. At the same time, more research into pain may support people with chronic pain: some measures, which severely limit access to prescription opioids, have been extremely problematic for people with pain who do not have substance use disorder. It is clear that pain is a complex problem, and needs to be addressed with care.

Earlier this year, Congress passed a two-year budget that included $6 billion to address the opioid epidemic and mental health. The $500 million earmarked in NIH’s budget for fiscal 2018 was designated specifically to combat the opioid epidemic. Some of the money will be used for research that “will evaluate improving opioid overdose reversal medications and ways to reformulate existing treatments to help improve adherence.”

Opioid overdoses occur at epidemic rates, causing more than 115 deaths every day. Media attention, grassroots advocacy, and community groups have all pushed the public health crisis into the public eye and demanded action by policymakers. However, as some people have pointed out, the focus on opioids excludes other substances that are just as dangerous—such as alcohol.

NIH did not include any statement about budget funds designated for alcohol use disorder or any other substance. The agency’s responsiveness to the drug epidemic and its cooperation with policymakers and elected representatives is encouraging and reflects the positive impact of grassroots activism.

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