Federal agencies take on opioid crisis

Inter-Agency Pain Task Force and NIH HEAL Initiative move forward

Although the wheels of progress often turn slowly in Washington, two major legislative mandates related to the opioid crisis have recently come to fruition.

Pain Task Force

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 authorized the creation of the Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force to update best practices and address current gaps and inconsistencies in managing chronic and acute pain.

The task force held its inaugural meeting on May 30-31, 2018.  Psychology was well represented on the panel by Mary Meagher of Texas A & M (who had been nominated by the American Psychological Association) and Cecilia Spitznas, who serves as Science Policy Advisor for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Following the meeting, APA provided detailed comments for the task force to consider as it works to develop guidelines for best practices in pain management.

HEAL Initiative

In April, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched its Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative, supported by additional funding in fiscal year 2018 appropriations.  APA had expressed concern about the low visibility of primary prevention research in the early descriptions of HEAL, and emphasized that message in a June letter to NIH Director Francis Collins.  

Fortunately, the latest version of the HEAL Initiative Research Plan appears to accommodate many of APA’s concerns.  In addition, Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), stressed the importance of prevention research, especially that focused on preventing increased opiate use in adolescents and young adults, in her plenary address at the College on Problems of Drug Dependence meeting in June. 

Still, while the priorities in the HEAL research plan related to opiate use disorders now incorporate psychological approaches, it is less clear where those approaches fit into the plan’s priorities for pain research, which remain largely biologically focused.  APA will continue to engage with NIH to develop a comprehensive approach to pain research.

NIDA psychologists to lead HEAL initiatives

Two psychologists at NIDA will serve in pivotal roles in implementing the HEAL research plan.  Redonna Chandler, who until recently served as Deputy Director of the Division of Clinical Innovation at NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, has returned to manage NIDA’s AIDS Research Program. In her new position, Dr. Chandler will also manage the largest of the focused HEAL initiatives, the HEALing Communities Study. A workshop (which will include several psychologists) to discuss the design and implementation of the HEALing Communities Study will be held at NIH headquarters and webcast live on June 18, 2018.

In addition, psychologist Kurt Rasmussen recently joined NIDA to manage the Division of Therapeutics and Medical Consequences. Dr. Rasmussen, who previously oversaw drug discovery and development at Lilly Pharmaceuticals, will work on new pharmaco- and behavioral therapies within HEAL’s Medication Assisted Treatment research plan.

APA will continue to monitor the progress of both the Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force and the NIH HEAL Initiative. For more information on APA’s work on the opioid crisis and on pain management, contact Geoff Mumford of APA’s Science Government Relations Office.