The National Institutes of Health announced a new initiative to fight opioid use disorder (OUD) in the US. The HEALing Communities Study will test a comprehensive prevention and treatment model aimed at communities severely affected by the opioid crisis.

The model includes evidence-based practices to reduce the number of deaths associated with opioid overdose. Researchers recently published the paper in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Opioids are sometimes prescribed by doctors to treat chronic pain and some diseases. However, if possible, doctors should consider other treatment options before prescribing opioids, as patients taking opioids may be at risk of addiction. For a start, the originally prescribed dose may work and help relieve the pain. However, over time, the same dose may not provide any relief as the body gets used to it. This can result in patients requiring higher doses. The higher the dose, the greater the chance of overdosing.

The impact of the pandemic on opioid overdoses

The Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) recently revealed the impact COVID-19 has had on the opioid overdose epidemic by highlighting the increased rate of overdose in the United States. The team spent seven weeks analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on the epidemic. The researchers found no statistical difference in the overdose report for the first six weeks. However, the latest analysis, published May 5, found a link between COVID-19 and the opioid epidemic. The relationship appeared to be strong in two of the six states analyzed.

The following statistical changes were displayed:

  • Shelby County, Tenn .: From April 7 to May 7, 2020, 391 suspected overdoses were reported. 58 of these cases were fatal.
  • Franklin County, Ohio: 50% more deaths in the first four months of 2020 compared to the same period last year.
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Overdose calls increased 54% in March and April 2020 compared to calls in the same period last year.

The report identified factors that may play a role in increasing drug use during COVID-19. Some of the factors are discrimination, stigma and difficulty in accessing harm reduction services. The team offered potential options such as access to on-demand services, conference calls, and better planning of surveillance methods.

The model for treating opioido doses

For the past 20 years, the opioid epidemic has cost the nation lives and money, researchers wrote in the paper. The 2018 report from the National Drug Use and Health Survey estimated that 10.3 million Americans, ages 12 and older, had used opioids in the past year. From 1999 to 2018, approximately 450,000 people died from drug overdoses related to opioids. Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, and psychostimulants contributed to the increase in overdoses.

The majority of deaths from opioid overdose are preventable. The problem is the community and treatment gap. Closing this gap would give more people with OUD access to effective treatments.

The HEALing Communities study aims to close this gap and reduce overdose cases. How will the multi-year study work?

The study will test its community-based, data-driven model in 67 communities in four states using a variety of settings: primary care clinics, hospital emergency departments, community health centers, addiction treatment centers, and correctional facilities.

In addition, research sites such as the University of Kentucky, Boston Medical Center and Columbia University in New York will participate in the study. Some of the goals include reaching more people in need of OUD treatment, improving treatment duration beyond six months, providing additional support services, and expanding the distribution of naloxone, a treatment that quickly reverses an opioid overdose.

The researchers hope the method will reduce the number of deaths from opioid overdose by 40% in three years.

The take away

The opioid crisis has affected millions of lives around the world. Many households around the world have had poor results due to substance abuse. It is important that everyone is committed to fighting the crisis. With this pandemic, effective methods and treatments with better access can help those who want to get rid of OUD.

Approaches such as the US HEALing Communities Study can be helpful in efforts to prevent opioid addiction and overdose prevention. These approaches can work outside of the United States, especially in areas with high drug use rates. The approaches are not limited to illegal drugs. They can also save patients with chronic pain who have been using opioids for years from undesirable results.

Ralph Chen is an enthusiast for medical topics and advanced technology. When he’s not writing, he spends a lot of time playing popular PC games.