NIH’s HEALING Communities Initiative

Alex: Frequently I tell people I was just
a living, breathing stereotype of all those awful images that your mind can conjure when
you think of heroin addiction. That’s absolutely me. My name is Alex Elswick, and I’m the co-founder
of Voices of Hope, which is a recovery community organization in central Kentucky. And when
I was 18 years old, I was prescribed oxycodone when I had wisdom teeth removed, and I got
addicted really quickly. Eventually started using heroin in a syringe, And ended up homeless
in a few different cities, and spent the very end of my addiction sleeping under a bridge
in Dayton. Dr. Collins: Anyone who has seen the crisis
that’s happening in our country has to be deeply concerned about how this happened.
How so many people have found themselves trapped in addiction to opioids. I’m Francis Collins.
I’m the Director of the National Institutes of Health. We’re determined we’re gonna turn
the corner. Alex: And the entire time that I was addicted
I went through cycles of relapse and remission, relapse and remission, every time I went to
treatment my parents became hopeful that this was going to be the time that I was going
to do it. And every time I left the treatment center called it a graduation, and they handed
me a pamphlet with a list of 12-step meetings and they said Good Luck.
Collins: To have any chance of ending this crisis, it’s clear our nation needs all hands
on deck. We’ve tried may different ways to intervene and there are obvious places to
do so, with treatment programs with Emergency Room management. But we haven’t really tried
pulling all of those together in one place to see what we could do. That’s what this
program aims to do. It’s called HEALing Communities. Today I’m pleased to announce this idea is
a reality. We are making awards to 4 HEALing communities research sites. They will determine
which combination of interventions works best at the local level, they will train and deploy
people to implement them, and they’ll monitor success in real time.
Our aim is to cut overdose deaths in these communities by as much as 40 percent within
those first 3 years, and to create a blueprint about how other communities across the nation
can do the same. Alex: I’m about 6 years in recovery and I’ve
been to more funerals than weddings. There’s a funeral tomorrow in Lexington Kentucky for
a young man I went to college with. I’m sorry to say that HEAL came too late for him, but
HEAL’s just in time for the 10s of thousands of lives it’s going to save going forward.
(applause) Collins: We know it won’t be easy but working
together with our partners we are convinced that HEALing communities can make a difference
and find lasting solutions to this national crisis.

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