Weill Cornell Medicine Awarded NIH Grant to Address Opioid Health Crisis

Weill Cornell Medicine has been awarded a five-year, $8.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support economic analysis, simulation modeling and other research approaches to help stem the national opioid epidemic.    

“We’ve continued to witness the very disturbing increase in opioid overdoses over the last seven years, fueled by more fentanyl in the drug supply,” said principal investigator Dr. Bruce Schackman, the Saul P. Steinberg Distinguished Professor of Population Health Sciences and director of the Center for Health Economics of Treatment Interventions for Substance Use Disorder, HCB, and HIV (CHERISH) at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Opioid overdoses are now the highest they’ve ever been. That’s been a big driver of a greater national focus on treatment and interventions to reduce overdoses.”

A cross-institutional effort, CHERISH was established in 2015 with a $5.8 million NIH grant to serve as a national resource for substance use health economics research. The new grant, distinct from CHERISH, supports the NIH’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Data2Action (D2A) Modeling and Economic Resource Center. The NIH launched the HEAL initiative in 2018 with additional funding from the U.S. Congress to accelerate scientific solutions to mitigate the opioid crisis.

One major challenge to reducing opioid deaths has been difficulty collecting and analyzing data to enhance the capacity to implement evidence-based services, Dr. Schackman said. He and his colleagues will use this grant to forecast the cost and value of opioid interventions using simulation modeling that integrates available data. They will also develop new tools that help HEAL D2A Innovation Grant recipients identify the costs of enhancing treatment and prevention programs and policies. Those grant recipients are part of individual health care systems or state or local partnerships focused on improving data systems and bridging gaps in services.

“There are services we know are effective but are not necessarily implemented widely,” Dr. Schackman said. “This initiative will use the data currently available so that health systems can identify where the needs are and also monitor whether they’re deploying those interventions effectively.”

Another related grant will fund an analysis by Dr. Yuhua Bao, associate professor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medicine, and colleagues at NYU and the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Support, to determine whether changing reimbursement for facilities providing take-home doses of methadone—an FDA-approved medication that eases opioid cravings—can help retain more patients in treatment programs.  

By blending data about opioid services with simulation modeling, Dr. Schackman and his colleagues also hope to fuel future research priorities and offer real-time estimates that help policymakers decide next steps.

 “We’re planning to create tools for forecasting budgets, costs and reimbursement,” he said, “which can be accessible through websites that states or health care systems can use or adapt.”

This article originally appeared in the WCM Newsroom. 

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