Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said he’s encouraged by the approach of Ohio State University researchers in tackling the opioid crisis.
Collins visited campus on Thursday to talk to researchers and celebrate the inaugural grants from Ohio State’s Opioid Innovation Fund.
“I was impressed by a variety of approaches that people are taking here, from basic neuroscience, to understand the nature of pain and how we could develop non-addictive approaches to pain that would be an alternative to opioids, all the way through to community interventions,” Collins said.
The $1.35 million fund, announced last year, was established to encourage innovative approaches to tackling the epidemic, with an emphasis on community partnerships and new technologies. William Martin, dean of the College of Public Health, said they received 89 proposals for the first round of funding and ultimately selected eight winners.
Among the proposals selected were a data analytic approach to tracking opioid hotspots in Franklin County; a virtual reality program to reduce opioid painkiller use; guidelines for working with domestic violence survivors; and the use of animals to help reduce trauma in opioid-affected families, with an emphasis on foster children.
“I’m most excited about ways that we could bring together all of the players in a truly integrated fashion,” Collins told WOSU. “I think we have a pretty good idea about what could work here, but we haven’t really pulled it all into a completely coordinated program. Maybe Ohio is the place to do that.”
Collins said that recovering from opioid addiction “can’t be done just with willpower.” He hopes to move closer to a system where emergency rooms, the public health system, and private health care providers work together to provide treatment to people addicted to opioids.
“You cannot just decide you’re going to resist this kind of craving,” Collins said. “This is a brain disease. We have to help the people who have been afflicted.”
Collins, who’s served as director of the NIH for nine years, said they’ve made strides in establishing alternative treatments for pain and better treatments for addiction. He’s also encouraged by the $2.8 billion allotment for battling opioid addiction included in the most recent federal spending bill.
But Collins says the epidemic is far from over.
“When you look at the numbers, I'm sorry to say it looks as if overdoses that are rolling into emergency rooms are still going up across the country,” Collins says. “We have not seen this peak, even now. Maybe prescriptions are down a little bit but overdoses are not.”
Ohio awarded its own grants for high-tech opioid solutions in January. The first five winners of the Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge, first proposed by Gov. John Kasich in 2017, received a total of $8 million for new, largely tested ideas to combat the epidemic.