UMich tackles opioid crisis with new research

President Schlissel announced the initiative at the annual Leadership Breakfast

Among the many other pressing issues addressed at the annual Leadership Breakfast held on this past Tuesday, President Mark Schlissel announced the upcoming Precision Health initiative, a multidisciplinary approach to medicine and health which seeks to develop personalized solutions for treating illness and maintaining health –  the first project already underway concerning the nation’s opioid crisis.

Between 2015 and 2016, overdose deaths from opioids —excluding heroine—increased by 56 percent, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Compared to 2009 with eight million prescriptions, Michigan doctors wrote 11 million prescriptions for opioids in 2016.

In April, Michigan received $16 million for prevention efforts and to make accessing treatment easier for those addicted to narcotics. Now, UMich is tackling the opioid crisis through Precision health to help doctors assess the amount and type of pain medication they should prescribe to patients to alleviate their pain post-surgery.

Precision health is a relatively new concept in the medical field, defined by the university as the study of medicine which uses “advanced tools and technology to discover the genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that influence a population’s health and provides personalized solutions that allow individuals to improve their health and wellness”, and has shown much growth in how we perceive and react to illness. The University of Michigan intends to contribute what extensive resources it has available in order to further this progressive trend in medicine, and follow the example of other programs and universities which have taken lead in the field – most notably Stanford Medicine.

Precision health involves the consideration of multiple different factors influencing the health of an individual, and so requires a volume of data far outreaching that of other commonplace medical strategies. The management of such data encourages collaboration between schools and departments within the university, thus the truth to Schlissel’s statement:“The University of Michigan is perfectly positioned to be a global leader in precision health because of our spectacular breadth and collaborative ethos. We have faculty excellence across all the related disciplines, and schools, colleges, institutes and departments that are already leading the way in discovery and education related to society’s biggest problems.” Already the initiative boasts support from the university’s Office of the Provost, Medical School, School of Public Health, and College of Engineering.

“The University of Michigan is perfectly positioned to be a global leader in precision health because of our spectacular breadth and collaborative ethos. We have faculty excellence across all the related disciplines, and schools, colleges, institutes and departments that are already leading the way in discovery and education related to society’s biggest problems.”

Already the initiative boasts support from the university’s Office of the Provost, Medical School, School of Public Health, and College of Engineering.

Schlissel announced that the first project involved in the initiative would address the opioid crisis, saying, “Opioid misuse and addiction is a national health emergency. On an average day in the United States, at least 91 people die from an opioid overdose. Our Precision Health initiative will work to understand opioid addiction at multiple levels.”

Opioids are a class of drugs which, in all their variants, chemically interact with certain receptors in the brain and nervous system to produce pleasurable effects and pain relief, including the pain meds OxyContin, morphine, and Vicodin – but also the illicit drug heroin.

Our country has experienced a rising issue of the misuse and exploitation of these substances from medical personnel, estimated that roughly 21 to 29 percent of all prescribed opiates for chronic pain are misused. Additionally, about 80 percent of the people who use heroin were people who first misused prescription opiates, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Schlissel discusses issues surrounding the problem of patients not receiving a proper dosage of opiate after surgery, and in many cases not taking their full dose, meaning the circulation of leftover pills which may end up in the wrong hands. The initiative will further the ways in which health professionals are able to predict appropriate opiate levels for individuals based on information about each patient’s health, genetics, social, and environmental factors. Given this data, doctors should be able to develop a methodology better tailored to the individual and avoid excess opioid distribution.

“Accurate doses will diminish the likelihood that someone will become addicted and reduce the number of pills that leave the pharmacy unnecessarily. This research also has the potential to identify genes that predispose individuals to addiction, allowing us to focus interventions on those most at risk,” said Schlissel, promising a solution to the nation’s opioid crisis as well as exciting new avenues of research for the future.

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