Feds Undertake Four-State Study to Address Opioid Crisis

By Bryan Le 04/22/19

The $350 million research project aims to find a way to reduce opioid deaths by 40% within 3 years.

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Feds need to find answers. Oleg Dudko | Dreamstime.com

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is gearing up to dole out $350 million to Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio to figure out how to stop opioid deaths by 40% in those states over the next three years.

By disbursing the money to the University of Kentucky, Boston Medical Center, Columbia University and Ohio State University, the NIH hopes to curb fatalities from drugs like fentanyl and heroin, which took the lives of about 47,600 people in the U.S. in 2017.

Researchers will get deeply involved with 15 communities that have been hit hard by the opioid crisis to figure out how best to effectively prevent and treat addiction there. They’ll also take a hard look at how factors like unemployment and the justice system contribute to the continued crisis, and experiment with distributing anti-overdose medications to first responders, police, and even schools.

“The most important work to combat our country’s opioid crisis is happening in local communities,” said Alex Azar, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary. “We believe this effort will show that truly dramatic and material reductions in overdose deaths are possible, and provide lessons and models for other communities to adopt and emulate.”

The program will proceed no matter what kind of budget cuts the NIH faces, according to Azar. This is welcome news as some experts believe there is no time to waste.

“We are in such a period of crisis that we need to know in real time what is working and what is not working,” said Dr. Alysse Wurcel of the Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

The opioid crisis is a major issue that requires a multi-faceted approach to solve. On his show, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver called for holding members of the Sackler family, the minds behind OxyContin, accountable for their alleged aggressive and irresponsible marketing of their powerful opioid painkiller. Oliver had several celebrities dramatize testimony given by Richard Sackler.

“The launch of OxyContin tablets will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition,” performed Michael K. Williams, repeating Sackler’s infamous proclamation. “The prescription blizzard will be so deep, dense and white.”

Some solutions to the opioid crisis may seem unorthodox and unintuitive, such as a Canadian public health expert’s suggestion to install opioid vending machines in Vancouver, home to “one of North America’s densest populations of injection drug users.” Only proven chronic drug users could scan themselves to get clean drugs for safer consumption.

“We’re acknowledging people will go to any extreme to use this drug. To tell them not to use because it’s unsafe is ridiculous,” said program mastermind Dr. Mark Tyndall.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter