A new center at The University of New Mexico will focus on innovative ways to help people overcome experiences with chronic pain or opioid use. Researchers at UNM’s Center on Alcohol, Substance Use and Addiction (CASAA) received a grant for more than $10 million for the center – which will take a novel approach to improve lives.

The grant, awarded by The National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health, will allow researchers to focus on a more integrated and holistic approach to the treatment of chronic pain and opioid use disorder.

“I am passionate about finding ways to use science to improve people’s lives,” said Matthew Pearson, UNM associate professor. “Our center is dedicated to keeping our focus on our shared goal: improve the lives of people suffering from chronic pain and problematic opioid use. This center brings so many of my amazing colleagues together and I am truly excited to see what we can accomplish together.”

UNM Regents’ Professor Katie Witkiewitz said the center, Integrative Management of Chronic Pain and Opioid use disorder for Whole Recovery (UNM IMPOWR Center), will implement two major studies:

  • The HOPE Trial (Healing Opioid use and Pain through Engagement)
    Led by Margo Hurlocker | Assistant Professor in Psychology
  • The OPTIC Trial (Opioids and Pain Treatment in Indigenous Communities)
    Led by Kamilla Venner | Associate Professor in Psychology
    Ángel Vásquez | Research Associate at CASAA

Both projects focus on helping people suffering from chronic pain and/or opioid use disorder and are designed to rapidly move from evaluating how well these treatments work to getting them implemented in the real world.

Pearson and Witkiewitz say the UNM IMPOWR Center will directly benefit individuals in New Mexico, Michigan and Minnesota, and other sites across the country serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

Witkiewitz, who is also a co-lead convener of the Substance Use Disorder Grand Challenge, says without the UNM Grand Challenges, the opportunity to apply for the funding wouldn’t have been possible. She says the Substance Use Disorder Grand Challenge helped provide the early direction and funding to support pilot work that resulted in this award.

“It is a tremendous honor to provide help to those in need and to learn more about how we can provide better treatments for chronic pain and opioid use disorder,” Witkiewitz said. “I am so thankful for the support of UNM staff, faculty and students in doing this important work, and for the UNM support of the Grand Challenges that laid the groundwork for this award.”

Pearson and Witkiewitz expect the UNM IMPOWR Center to begin projects next year and will be working with community members, policymakers and individuals with experience of chronic pain and/or opioid use disorder to develop and implement more effective treatment programs.