Since the beginning of the
COVID-19 pandemic, over forty states have seen increases in opioid-related
Despite the increasing need
for opioid use disorder treatment, reports have indicated that several
behavioral health and addiction treatment studies at NIH have been put on hold.
Washington, DC - Today, United States Senators Elizabeth
Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
Committee (HELP), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) requesting information on opioid treatment research
programs that have reportedly been paused as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the letter, the Senators ask a series of questions regarding the status of
these programs and how NIH plans to mitigate the impact of this postponement.
"We are concerned that this postponement will impact the results of
this crucial research to the detriment of those struggling with opioid use
disorder (OUD). In light of the growing
of opioid overdoses and deaths, it is crucial this research be
completed in a timely manner so that those struggling with OUD may receive the
high-quality, evidence-based treatment they need," wrote the
NIH is the leading government agency conducting biomedical research,
including research on the opioid crisis. This research helps develop and study
new forms of treatment that improve the nation's response to the opioid
epidemic and other challenges to public health. However, reports
that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NIH has paused several
opioid and substance use disorder research programs which would study
disparities in access to behavioral health treatment and how to improve the
availability of medication assisted treatment (MAT) to incarcerated
individuals. These programs could help develop new techniques to better treat
people struggling with OUD and help inform policymakers work to end the opioid
epidemic. NIH has not yet released information regarding the status of these
paused programs nor how the delay may affect the studies' outcomes.
In recent months, the United States has experienced a significant
in opioid overdoses and overdose deaths. Since the beginning of the
public health crisis in March, over forty states have seen increases
in opioid-related mortality. This follows
in opioid overdose deaths of over 70,000 in 2019, a 5 percent
jump from 2018. Shelter in place and social distancing measures have complicated
patients' access to potentially life-saving MAT and counseling services
that thousands rely on. These growing numbers are particularly troubling
as those who suffer from OUD and other substance use disorders are more likely
to struggle with homelessness, economic insecurity, and other comorbidities
that increase their chances of contracting COVID-19.
Similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, Black and Brown communities have borne the
brunt of the opioid epidemic and its resurgence. While overdose rates are
decreasing overall, rates of overdose in Black and Brown communities are increasing
These accelerating trends paint a grim picture for those struggling with OUD
and the country's work to recover from the opioid epidemic.
Senator Warren and the late Representative Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) led
over 95 of their colleagues in introducing
the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Emergency (CARE) Act
, which would distribute
$100 billion over ten years directly to communities to help them combat the
opioid crisis. The bill also provides several billion dollars to NIH to conduct
research on the crisis.