University Professor Nabila El-Bassel Receives the 2024 NIH HEAL Initiative Director’s Research Award

February 08, 2024

The award is given annually to an NIH HEAL Initiative researcher who demonstrates research excellence, supports broad dissemination of key research, and is a leader in the scientific community.

Dr. Nabila El-Bassel, the Willma and Albert Musher Professor of Social Work, has received the prestigious NIH HEAL Director's Award for Excellence in Research. This award is a testament to her outstanding contributions to harm reduction and addiction treatment research, particularly in the context of marginalized communities in the United States and globally. She is a top-cited researcher in the areas of addiction, HIV, and gender-based violence, emphasizing the unique needs of marginalized populations.

Throughout her career, Dr. El-Bassel has made significant advancements in harm reduction and addiction research with the ultimate goal of improving the well-being of individuals and communities affected by addiction and the opioid crisis. Dr. El-Bassel's wide-ranging, multidisciplinary studies have been extensively funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In 2019, she received the largest NIH grant to a School of Social Work for the HEALing Communities Study, which focuses on the use of community-based interventions to reduce overdose fatalities in 67 communities heavily impacted by the overdose crisis across New York, Massachusetts, Kentucky, and Ohio.

Dr. El-Bassel is the Director of the Social Intervention Group (SIG) at Columbia School of Social Work, where she and her multidisciplinary teams have developed and tested innovative prevention and intervention approaches for addiction, HIV, and gender-based violence over the past three decades. Her ground breaking research has resulted in the development and dissemination of numerous evidence-based interventions to local, national, and global communities.

Since 2019, Dr. El-Bassel has also co-founded and is serving as the Director of the Columbia Center for Healing of Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders, Intervention Development and Implementation (CHOSEN), which focuses on addressing the negative health consequences associated with opioid and other substance use disorders. CHOSEN promotes research tackling drug overdoses, co-occurring psychiatric and physical illnesses, and their far-reaching impacts on individuals, families and communities. CHOSEN has more than 70 faculty affiliates University-wide conducting addiction research. Dr. El-Bassel has also demonstrated a deep commitment to training and mentoring the next generation of addiction and harm reduction researchers and practitioners, and recently received the faculty mentor of year award from Columbia University.

Dr. El-Bassel said, “I’m honored to accept the NIH HEAL Initiative Director’s Research Award. I knew early in my research career that I wanted to direct my studies toward addressing society’s most pressing social and health problems. One population that I have chosen to focus on has been people who use drugs, and how their substance use has affected them and their families. Substance use and addiction are a growing concern around the world. Unfortunately, many individuals who use drugs have limited or no access to medical treatment and harm reduction services. They often face numerous structural barriers: stigma, ineffective drug policies, racial inequities, and health disparities that hinder their access to the help they need. All of the prevention and community-based interventions we have designed and tested are aimed at addressing these critical issues.”

The other NIH HEAL Initiative Director’s Award winners can be found on the NIH HEAL website.