At the end of 2021, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) filed requests for applications (RFAs). These requests are asking for the general public’s health regarding new harm reduction policies, such as drug decriminalization and safe consumption sites. Applicants will receive funding for their upcoming research into harm reduction efforts, under the new HEAL Initiative.
Under the HEAL Initiative, the NIH is accepting applications for different types of programs individuals, organizations, and companies are already performing or looking to perform, but need some federal funding to get their research going. In the recent RFA:
“Applications are being accepted for projects that involve “(1) developing and testing new harm reduction strategies; (2) examining how to effectively implement new and existing harm reduction strategies; (3) expanding the settings and delivery models through which harm reduction strategies are deployed; and (4) examining the impact of new harm reduction policies implemented at state and local levels.”
Many of these new harm reduction services will help prevent or reduce the unfortunate outcomes of substance abuse, including overdose and death, according to the RFA. However, only a few harm reduction programs and items exist, including naloxone, fentanyl test strips, safer smoking equipment, and sterile syringes. NIH wants to find more harm reduction services and policies, which is why they launched the HEAL Initiative.
This funding and research opportunity from the NIH is a step forward towards combating the overdose and opioid crisis currently happening in the U.S. Since 1999, the CDC has reported over one million opioid overdose related deaths. Over 100,000 of those deaths happened between April 2020 and April 2021 alone. It’s a crisis in the country that continues to grow. Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic didn’t help the crisis. In fact, researchers say Covid may have made overdose deaths worse.
Now, activists and lawmakers are looking to make those necessary changes. The White House Office on National Drug Control (ONDCP) recently stated they would prioritize harm reduction policies after more research results become available. Another federal organization, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has continuously called on lawmakers to make changes. Director Nora Volkow has spoken out more times in 2021 than before about the need for change.
“Societal norms surrounding drug use and addiction continue to be informed by myths and misconceptions,” said Volkow. “Among the most harmful of these is the scientifically unfounded belief that compulsive drug-taking by individuals with addiction reflects deliberate antisocial or deviant choices. This belief contributes to the continued criminalization of drug use and addiction.”
However, research remains limited regarding harm reduction services as it is a relatively new push in the U.S. Most recently, two safe consumption sites opened in New York City. There, within the first few weeks of them opening, nearly one hundred lives became saved. Fortunately, these individuals had a safe place to go to consume drugs and trained staff handled any situation that could result from an overdose.
Internationally, Canada has the longest running safe consumption site, Insite. The organization stated over two thousand people remain alive since it opened. Additionally, cities like Vancouver are looking to offer safe consumption sites that can supply safe drugs not from the black market. Research shows drugs from the black market, and even some licensed locations, contain dangerous levels of fentanyl. This is a synthetic opioid causing a rapid increase in overdoses and deaths.
Additional safe consumption sites are open across Europe and Asia. Several have found the same results as Insite and the two New York City locations. Because these locations opened, thousands of people remain alive, and public health continues to improve.
These RFAs from the NIH are big steps forward to combating the overdose crisis in the U.S. Therefore, funding research is necessary to move science forward, and NIH is taking that first step. As more information becomes available, we will update you with the latest.
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