NIH award granted to study alternate treatments to opioids


Two University of Utah School of Medicine projects—one based in the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences and another in the Emergency Department—have been awarded grants through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative. This national effort provides $945 million in total funding to support a variety of research projects that tackle the opioid addiction and overdose crisis.

Focused ultrasound for low back pain

Radiologists Viola Rieke, Ph.D., and Lubdha Shah, M.D., have been awarded funding to develop a non-invasive, drug-free, and low-risk treatment option for lower back pain.

Over 50 million Americans suffer from chronic lower back pain (LBP). Opioids are often prescribed as medication, but effective and non-opioid medications for pain management are lacking. This widespread usage contributes to approximately 10.3 million people in the United States who misuse pain medications. NIH began the Helping to End Addiction Long-Term Initiative, or the HEAL Initiative, to accelerate research and address public health from all angles.

The goal of this project is to develop a completely non-invasive, drug-free and low-risk treatment option for lower back pain. Chronic LBP can prove to be a challenge in diagnosis and pain management due to multiple potential pain sources with both biomechanical and inflammatory mechanisms. Opioids are ineffective due to their off-target toxicity, development of tolerance and potential for abuse, whereas interventional procedures are target-specific but may come with risks and lack long-term efficacy.

Focused ultrasound (FUS) is a lower risk, completely non-invasive method that allows the treatment of axial LBP through neuromodulation. The central goal of this study is to understand how FUS can decrease nerve conduction, which can be used to alleviate pain sensation.

“Chronic back pain is such a complex, debilitating health problem for millions of people. There is no simple solution. This grant will enable our team to develop a technologically advanced non-invasive method to address this ubiquitous ailment, drawing from the expertise at the University of Utah,” says Rieke.

U of U Hospital has also been chosen as one of the 30 emergency department sites to participate in a study being conducted by the National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network’s New England Consortium Node and investigators at Yale University.

Buprenorphine for opioid use disorder

The Emergency Department-Initiated Buprenorphine Validation Network Trial (ED-INNOVATION) will test an implementation strategy to guide the development of ED-initiated treatment of opioid use disorder with buprenorphine at the sites. Those sites that successfully implement ED-initiated buprenorphine will subsequently compare the effectiveness of two formulations of buprenorphine, sublingual versus an extended-release seven-day injectable formulation in engaging ED patients with untreated opioid use disorder in medication treatment at seven days. Peter Taillac, M.D., and Troy Madsen, M.D., will serve as the site primary investigators along with Gerald Cochran, Ph.D., and Adam Gordon, M.D., MPH, FACP, DFASAM as co-investigators.

Full descriptions of the NIH HEAL Initiative programs and awards are detailed at the NIH website.