In the wake of the opioid epidemic, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is launching a massive initiative to help people with opioid addiction and to explore safer treatment options for chronic pain. The University of Washington School of Medicine will receive at least three awards totaling about $19 million.

The “Helping to End Addiction Long-term” (HEAL) Initiative is funding $945 million in 375 funding awards to researchers in 41 states.

“This unprecedented investment in the NIH HEAL Initiative demonstrates the commitment to reversing this devastating crisis,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis  Collins, who launched the initiative in early 2018.

The surge in opioid prescriptions has fueled an addiction crisis that has taken more than 400,000 lives over the past 20 years.

Nephrology will receive $2.8 million

Researchers in our Division of Nephrology will compare interventions to reduce prescription opioid use for patients with kidney failure. The University of Washington will be a clinical center where patients undergoing long-term dialysis with chronic pain needing opioids will be enrolled in a clinical trial to test multiple strategies to see if they help patients get off prescription opioids.

Dr. Rajnish Mehrotra

Some patients will receive cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or CBT augmented by safer medical therapy such as buprenorphine patches. CBT is a type of psychotherapy in which negative thought patterns about the self and the world are challenged to alter unwanted behavior patterns and to treat mood disorders such as depression. The principal investigator is Dr. Rajnish Mehrotra, professor of medicine (Nephrology). 

Researchers said the rate of opioid prescriptions for patients undergoing long-term hemodialysis is more than twice that of the general population. Short-term and low-dose prescription opioids both are associated with significant health risk to hemodialysis patients.

The trial will be led by three co-principal investigators that have partnered with five nonprofit dialysis providers for access to a diverse group of hemodialysis patients in Albuquerque, New York and Seattle with a census over three years of more than 7,000 patients.

Read the full story from the UW Medicine Newsroom