Government Sinks Nearly $350 Million For Failed Study On Opioid-Related Deaths

( — On Sunday, June 16, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a news release regarding the $344 million study to reduce opioid overdose deaths.

Called the Helping End Addiction Long-term (HEALing) Communities Study, the program was a 12-month trial. The purpose was to study the effects of 615 “evidence-based” strategies to combat the ever-rising mortality rates related to fentanyl and other opioids. However, the results were disappointing and found no statistically significant difference between the intervention communities and the control communities.

The program focused on 34 communities in Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio that received the interventions (34 communities) starting in 2020. The 33 control communities also received the interventions, which began in 2022. The strategies covered a variety of methods. They worked to reduce restrictions around medications like methadone and buprenorphine to make them more accessible. A focus on health care providers, as well as prisons and jails, allowed them to implement strategies where they were most needed. Improved distribution of naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses, as well as education concerning the prescription of opioids, were also key to the program.

Redonna Chandler, the National Institute on Drug Abuse official who directed the research project, suggests the program was significantly hampered by the pandemic. Researchers also say that the increased prevalence of fentanyl in the illegal drug market may have also affected the study. However, despite the lack of a clear-cut positive result, many are saying that the study was at least a partial success. The NIH claims that the study showed that communities can successfully implement evidence-based strategies at the local level. The National Institute on Drug Abuse director, Nora D. Volkow, M.D., commented that the study broke down barriers and brought researchers, providers, and communities together.

While some are dismayed that such an expensive and time-consuming program ultimately yielded such disappointing results, others believe that there was considerable value in what was accomplished. Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) acknowledges there is no quick fix that will reduce opioid overdose deaths. However, she believes that the study’s successful implementation of evidence-based strategies reveals the potential to yield lifesaving results in the future.

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