RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – A partnership between RTI International and the Renaissance Computing Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will receive $21.4 million from the NIH HEAL Initaitive to help researchers gather, prepare, and sustain data from more than 500 academic studies on addiction, opioid misuse, opioid treatment, and other research.

The University of Chicago will collaborate on the project, as well, through the provision of a cloud-based platform that enables researchers to search the database of study results and data in order to inform research practices, policies, and programs.

According to the initiative’s website, the goal of its research collaborations is to enhance pain management and improve treatment for opioid misuse and addiction.

More than five people in North Carolina die each day from an opioid overdose caused by misuse or addiction, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), which is more than those who die from car accidents, and the number of deaths has more than doubled in the past decade, according to a study conducted by the Center for Health Statistics at North Carolina State University. In 2019, WRAL reported that data is a critical component to addressing addiction and misuse.

Despite healthcare data becoming easier to create, collect, and store, the industry has yet been able to harness the data to unlock its potential, said RTI International in a statement released today.

Challenges persist in preparing data in a way that makes it easily found and accessible, removing barriers from storage silos while simultaneously protecting patient privacy, and teaching researchers, policymakers, physicians, and patients themselves how to analyze or otherwise use available data to inform decisions or policy, the organization said.

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The full title of the initiative from the National Institutes of Health is the NIH Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative℠ and its director Rebecca G. Baker, said in a statement that data is the currency of lifesaving and evidence-based practice.

“To be maximally useful, data must be findable to support new research and secondary analyses, as well as to guide education and policy about pain and addiction,” said Baker, adding that the research teams at UNC and RTI will augment the initiative’s efforts to make data findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable, sometimes abbreviated by the acronym FAIR.

“Providing efficient and secure access for investigators to combine data from different studies should give us a much more accurate overall picture of how challenges around pain management and addiction can be addressed,” said Stan Ahalt, director of RENCI at UNC. “Given the urgency of HEAL’s mission, we are thankful to be able to provide expertise that can facilitate discovery of important elements hidden within the data.”

The collaboration seeks to bring those elements into the open, according to the statement, and will do so by studying existing data efforts and collaborations from other research partners involved in the initiative.

Already, the NIH HEAL Initiative℠ is researching new strategies in preventing opioid misuse and addiction, including looking into sleep dysfunction as a core feature of opioid use disorder and recovery, the prevention of progression to moderate or severe opioid use disorder, and optimizing care for people with opioid use disorder and mental health conditions, according to an NIH webpage.