In 2018, the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) convened a unique and timely HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) Initiative meeting to address the rising opioid epidemic facing the United States that, at that point, had taken almost 50,000 lives and recently been declared a public health emergency.
The Contributions of Social and Behavioral Research in Addressing the Opioid Crisis meeting was held in collaboration with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD).
This meeting brought together a diverse group of experts across five panel discussions to examine and understand how the context of people’s lives contributes to opioid misuse and overdose—for the first time, moving beyond just the brain chemistry of addiction in opioid use disorders. Panelists included people with lived experience of the opioid crisis; medical professionals including emergency department, primary care, and dentistry providers; legal professionals; clinical research scientists; economists; and more, including Nova Institute’s president and founder, Professor Brian Berman, MD, all of whom offered different views on health and influenced ideas for possible solutions.
This transdisciplinary array of perspectives, not likely to otherwise cross paths, provided invaluable insights into the lived experiences of those suffering from the opioid epidemic. These learnings culminated in a special issue of the American Journal of Public Health that examines ways to improve the opioid crisis response via actionable social and behavioral priorities and the identification of key issue areas for research.
Fast-forwarding to 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified the already increasing opioid crisis, with overdose deaths rising from about 70,000 in 2019 to 93,000 just one year later. Various factors magnified by the pandemic, like social isolation and economic hardship, continue to contribute to opioid use disorder and overdose deaths, making the research and findings all the more relevant for healthcare professionals, policymakers, and others in combating this crisis.
The Nova Institute was honored to participate in these discussions, which highlight the value of transdisciplinary collaboration and the importance of examining the entire lived experience to advance health. We look forward to sharing more findings from this work and research as they are available.