University of Arizona, Oklahoma State University join forces to combat opioid crisis and chronic pain

Robert C. Robbins, MD, president of the University of Arizona, and Kayse Shrum, DO, president of Oklahoma State University, today announced the two institutions’ academic medical centers have joined forces to combat the opioid crisis and chronic pain through research, treatment and education.

The partnership will share institutional resources from three research centers – the University of Arizona Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center (CPAC), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)-funded Center for Excellence in Addiction Studies (CEAS) at UArizona Health Sciences, and the OSU Center for Health Sciences’ National Center for Wellness & Recovery (NCWR) – to advance pain and addiction research and accelerate positive health outcomes in Arizona, Oklahoma and across the country.

The NCWR has access to approximately 18,000 novel research molecules from Purdue Pharma that were designed to target neuronal mechanisms associated with chronic pain and addiction. In addition, there are 40,000-50,000 human biosamples from consenting patients enrolled in more than 20 Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials involving opioids and non-opioids. Recently, the NCWR has begun collecting additional biosamples from patients suffering from addiction or who are in recovery and undergoing treatment at NCWR treatment centers in Oklahoma. These unique assets, collected over more than two decades, enable research into risk factors, causes and potential treatments for addiction and chronic pain.

The CPAC is composed of a group of world class scientists with expertise in the overlapping neurobiology of chronic pain and addiction whose work will be strengthened by the availability of novel chemical matter from the NCWR. The CEAS will provide expertise in genetic targeting, the use of neuroanalytical methods, large data analysis and advanced behavioral assessment of these drug-like substances, providing the critical data that can lead to advancement to clinical trials. Additionally, both the CPAC and the CEAS are committed to training paraprofessionals in substance use disorder for the work force and educating students as well as creating a Southwestern Region Addiction Network with collaborations with university investigators in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.

The most important beneficiaries of this partnership will be millions of people who suffer from pain or are at risk of addiction and their families. Given the extreme need to address the opioid crisis, it’s a strategic priority. Funds from the strategic plan have helped support the Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center. In addition, the New Economy Initiative [funds] from the state legislature and the governor have been used to grow the center and will be a key in strengthening this OSU partnership. This is one of those true rare win-win situations. We believe that by tackling chronic pain and opioid use disorder together, the University of Arizona and OSU will lead us to discovery of novel non-addictive treatments for those with chronic pain while discovering new ways to treat substance use disorder.”

Dr. Robert C. Robbins, MD, President, University of Arizona

The goals of the three research centers are aligned with the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the National Institutes of Health's Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) initiative. They are focused on combating the opioid crisis, ameliorating the suffering of chronic pain while decreasing opioid use, finding alternatives to opioids for treating acute and chronic pain, promoting recovery and prevention of relapse from opioid use disorder, as well as development of rapidly acting medications for opioid overdose through advancement of novel chemistry, biology, therapies, clinical trials and education.

“This partnership has the potential to significantly advance the fields of pain and addiction research on a national level,” said Michael D. Dake, MD, senior vice president for the University of Arizona Health Sciences. “Our faculty have decades of experience and expertise researching the mechanisms of pain and addiction, but we recognize the need for more research to help those who are affected by chronic pain and substance use disorder.”

In addition to their general populations, Arizona and Oklahoma are home to Indigenous populations affected by drug addiction. The two universities share a common commitment to addressing the impact of substance use disorders and chronic pain in these populations.

“The partnership will accelerate our ability to discover novel medications, devices and therapies to help those who suffer from substance use disorder and chronic pain,” said Todd Vanderah, PhD, director of the UArizona Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center and professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology in the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson. “This relationship will leverage each institution’s research strengths, their dedication to clinical care and their passion to make a change.”

The partnership involves sharing research assets and knowledge, as well as the preclinical and clinical expertise gleaned from years of research and treatment by scientists and clinicians at both academic medical centers.

The University of Arizona Health Sciences’ CPAC and CEAS bring together world-class laboratory spaces along with preclinical and clinical expertise that can promote development of novel, non-opioid therapies based on existing chemical entities from NCWR as well as new chemistry and biology that can be jointly pursued by the three groups.

“This partnership provides an unprecedented opportunity to address the unmet medical need of chronic pain that affects about 1 in 3 Americans while diminishing opioid use and associated risks of addiction and overdose deaths,” said Frank Porreca, PhD, Cosden Professor of Pain and Addiction Studies in the Department of Pharmacology at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson and principal investigator on the Center of Excellence for Addiction Studies grant. “The partnership also will provide unique educational opportunities for young people in Arizona and in Oklahoma that will enhance innovative research in chronic pain and addiction.”


  1. deafdeb deafdeb United States says:

    OUD and Pain are too different to be lumped together and treated with the same medicine, except possibly where lack of pain treatmed leads to self-medicating with illegal drugs which could in some cases lead to addiction. I hope the boundaries are clarified rather than clouded.

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