NIH Awards Wake Forest University School of Medicine $10 Million to Study Long-term Opioid Use, Chronic Pain

October 4, 2023

Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine have received a five-year $10 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to create a broad research program that will work to reduce opioid-related harms and improve quality of life in patients on long-term opioid therapy.

The grant aligns with the NIH’s Helping End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) initiative. The initiative, which launched in 2018, was created to find scientific solutions to stem the national opioid and pain public health crises.

The project is titled Multilevel Interventions to Reduce Harm and Improve Quality of Life for Patients on Long-term Opioid Therapy (MIRHIQL) and will involve the creation of a national resource center at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

“Despite the well-known challenges of opioid crises, there is no clinical definition of opioid misuse,” said Meredith C.B. Adams, M.D., associate professor of anesthesiology, biomedical informatics, physiology and pharmacology, and public health sciences at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “This funding enables us to bring together researchers from across the country to focus on defining opioid misuse, with the long-term goal of our center to develop a better understanding of chronic pain and related factors of long-term opioid use.”

According to Adams, who is a co-principal investigator, there are also certain populations who might benefit from opioids to manage chronic pain which adds to the complexity of the problem.

In 2022, Adams’ team received a $4 million grant from the NIH HEAL initiative to create an Integrative Management of Chronic Pain and OUD for Whole Recovery (IMPOWR): Coordination Center for a network of clinical research centers focused on patient-centered interventions.

Adams’ research team also received $3.5 million in 2022 from the NIH to study how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted opioid use disorder and how the COVID-19 response and mitigation policies impact health outcomes, especially in vulnerable populations.

And earlier this year, Adams was awarded $7.5 million from the NIH’s HEAL Data 2 Action (HD2A) program, which is designed to use real-time data to guide actions and change processes toward reducing overdoses and improving opioid use disorder treatment and pain management.

With the latest funding, the team will create a research community that connects the MIRHIQL network to IMPOWR research centers as well as a larger NIH HEAL network.

“We hope that by defining opioid misuse, we can provide a clear risk vs. harm analysis of long-term opioid therapy for providers,” said Robert W. Hurley, M.D., Ph.D., associate dean for faculty development and professor of anesthesiology, neurobiology, anatomy, and public health at Wake Forest University School of Medicine; executive director of the pain service line at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist; and co-principal investigator. “This research will allow us to improve care for patients who are living with chronic pain and decrease opioid misuse and abuse.”

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Myra Wright,