About NCATS' Role in the NIH HEAL InitiativeSM

Launched in April 2018, the NIH HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-termSM) Initiative is a trans-NIH effort to advance national priorities in addressing the opioid crisis through science. As part of the initiative, NIH developed a research plan to bolster research to enhance pain management strategies and improve treatments for opioid misuse and addiction.

The word "PAIN" on a chalkboard with an eraser


More than 2 million Americans have an opioid use disorder, and even more misuse these medicines by taking them longer or in higher doses than prescribed. To address the opioid epidemic, new, safe interventions are needed to combat opioid misuse and addiction and to treat pain. Not only are more accurate research models needed to understand how potential new drugs will affect humans, but scientists also must identify existing drugs or develop new therapies that have potential as effective treatments for opioid misuse and addiction and for pain.


The toll of opioid addiction and overdose death continues to devastate individuals, families and communities, contributing to an unprecedented decrease in life expectancy in the United States over the past several years. New, safe interventions are urgently needed to combat opioid misuse and addiction, and to treat pain. Translational science is playing a crucial role in advancing knowledge about the underlying biology of addiction and pain, developing new interventions to treat them, and determining which interventions are most effective.

With NIH HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-termSM) Initiative support, NCATS is providing a suite of translational science resources and expertise to investigators working on opioid and pain research. With its expert collaborative infrastructure already in place, the Center is leading trans-NIH collaborative HEAL efforts that include:

  • Developing new testing platforms that more closely model human biology than currently available cell and animal models, using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), tissue chips and 3-D tissue bioprinting;
  • Identifying and de-risking potential therapies that work in novel ways through assays (tests) and high-throughput screening to select and develop compounds that show promise as potential drugs;
  • Accelerating the identification of promising chemical structures and developing those into pharmacological or drug-like compounds;
  • Advancing promising new drug candidates through rigorous pre-clinical efficacy and safety studies for first-in-human clinical trials as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; and
  • Facilitating opportunities to partner with other NIH Institutes and Centers as well as clinical research institutions nationwide to conduct studies to determine the effectiveness of existing pain management treatments.

Through the NIH HEAL InitiativeSM, NCATS is applying the breakthrough approaches of translational science to advance new treatments for the opioid crisis, the public health challenge of our era.