Social and Behavioral Sciences Key to Research Funded by the NIH HEAL Initiative to Tackle the National Opioid Crisis

Social and Behavioral Sciences Key to Research Funded by the NIH HEAL Initiative to Tackle the National Opioid Crisis

To reverse the opioid crisis that continues to grip the nation, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded $945 million in total fiscal year 2019 funding for grants, contracts and cooperative agreements across 41 states through the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative or NIH HEAL Initiative. The trans-NIH research effort aims to improve treatments for chronic pain, curb the rates of opioid use disorder (OUD) and overdose and achieve long-term recovery from opioid addiction.

In the press release accompanying these awards, NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., said “This unprecedented investment in the NIH HEAL Initiative demonstrates the commitment to reversing this devastating crisis. It’s clear that a multi-pronged scientific approach is needed to reduce the risks of opioids, accelerate development of effective non-opioid therapies for pain and provide more flexible and effective options for treating addiction to opioids.”

Evidence of that multi-pronged approach is the contributions of the behavioral and social sciences to answering important research questions relevant to reversing the opioid crisis.  For example, the HEALing Communities Study and Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network (JCOIN) will integrate evidence-based interventions into community, justice and emergency room settings where people with OUD seek help. These community-based implementation science efforts are critical to understanding why effective treatments, including effective individual and community-based behavioral interventions, are underutilized and how to increase adoption of effective treatments in these settings.

Below are a few examples of the HEAL awards involving the behavioral and social sciences:

  • Testing the Effects of Contingency Management and Behavioral Economics on Buprenorphine-naloxone Treatment Adherence using a Sequential Multiple Assignment Randomized Trial (SMART) design
  • Peer-delivered Behavioral Activation Intervention to Improve Adherence to MAT among Low-income, Minority Individuals with OUD
  • Optimizing Access, Engagement and Assessment to Elucidate Prenatal Influences on Neurodevelopment: The Brains Begin Before Birth (B4) Midwest Consortium
  • Promoting Resilience in Children: Protocol Development for a Birth Cohort Study to Assess Factors Impacting Neurodevelopment
  • The Cumulative Risk of Substance Exposure and Early Life Adversity on Child Health Development and Outcomes
  • A Digital Intervention to Prevent the Initiation of Opioid Misuse in Adolescents in School-based Health Centers
  • A Mindfulness and Peer Mentoring Program to Improve Adherence to Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use Disorders
  • AOD Use Trajectories from Age 10 to 24: Multi-level Predictors, Health and Behavioral Functioning, and Racial/ethnic Disparities
  • BEST-OUD: Behavioral Economic Screening Tool of Opioid Use Disorder for use in clinical practice
  • Community Randomized Trial in the Cherokee Nation: CONNECT and CMCA for Preventing Drug Misuse among Older Adolescents
  • Effect of Mindfulness Training on Opioid Use and Anxiety During Primary Care Buprenorphine Treatment
  • Effectiveness of a CBT-based mHealth Intervention Targeting MOUD Retention, Adherence, and Opioid Use
  • Enhancing Exercise and Psychotherapy to Treat Comorbid Addiction and Pain for Improving Adherence to Medication Assisted Treatment in Opioid Use Disorders
  • Enhancing the Impact of Behavioral Pain Management on MAT Outcomes
  • Mindful Body Awareness Training as an Adjunct to Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder: An ancillary study
  • Psychosocial Pain Management to Improve Opioid Use Disorder Treatment Outcomes

More about all of the grants awarded in FY19 by the NIH HEAL Initiative, including the ones above, can be found at:

The NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research has worked closely with the HEAL Initiative since its launch and will continue to work with HEAL to assist the NIH in a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach research effort that makes use of the behavioral and social sciences in reversing the opioid crisis.