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The Opioid Epidemic: Updates and Promising Future Research

BLH Staff

Opioid abuse and addiction remains a serious problem in the United States, contributing greatly to the nation’s disease burden. The most recent data indicate that in 2018, about 1.2 million people in the United States aged 12 and older had an opioid use disorder, and 526,000 suffered from a heroin use disorder.

While the prevalence of opioid use disorders remains too high, the 2018 data suggest slight decreases from recent years. Some of this downward trend in prevalence can be attributed to the efforts that the federal government and other organizations have taken to promote awareness of the issue, identify alternative pain therapies, and research overdose prevention strategies.

For example, in April 2018, the National Institutes of Health launched the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative, a trans-agency effort to accelerate research to curtail the national opioid public health crisis. The initiative aims to accelerate the development of medications to treat opioid addiction, investigate non-addictive interventions for chronic pain, and improve overdose prevention and treatment strategies.

To help our veterans, a population plagued with chronic pain as well as opioid use disorders, the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) developed a patient information guide, Safe and Responsible Use of Opioids for Chronic Pain. The guide provides information on opioids as well as alternate pain therapies.

Similarly, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) funded the Six Building Blocks program, an evidence-based quality improvement toolkit to help primary care physicians implement effective care for chronic pain and opioid therapy patients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also published guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain.

While there are numerous efforts and initiatives underway to combat opioid misuse and addiction, more work needs to be done. BLH is currently involved with supporting multiple Opioid programs and initiatives across the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) including our work at the AHRQ and the Administration for Children and Families. We are proud of the knowledge and approaches we are able to provide to our clients in analyzing available research and transforming it into informative reports, developing and communicating health professional and patient safety educational materials, and working to develop strategic approaches to address this continuing issue. For more information, contact BLH.