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NIH Announces Formation of Task Force to Study Impact of Creating a New Substance Use, Abuse and Addiction Research Institute

Legislative Update
November 18, 2010

On November 15, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. announced that he was forming a task force to study the implications of centralizing all substance use, abuse and addiction research and related public health initiatives within one new Institute. This action comes after the Substance Use, Abuse, and Addiction (SUAA) Working Group of the NIH Scientific Management Review Board voted at the SMRB’s September 15 meeting-and subsequently recommended in a written report-to dissolve the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and centralize addiction programs and related activities in one new Institute.

Dr. Collins has emphasized that all existing substance use, abuse and addiction research programs will continue status quo during this review. The NIH Reform Act of 2006, which established the SMRB as an entity to develop recommendations on NIH structure and management, also details a process by which Dr. Collins must inform Congress about any potential changes. This process requires a full analysis of the programmatic and funding issues associated with any structural change, which is the task force’s charge.

Recognizing that these programs may exist in upwards of all 27 NIH Institutes and Centers (I/Cs), Dr. Collins has asked Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D. and National Institute of Arthritis and Muscoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) Director Stephen Katz, M.D., Ph.D. to consider what I/C programs should be included in a centralized Institute, as well as those NIDA/NIAAA programs that may need to be moved to other I/Cs, such as end-target organ research.

NAEVR opposed consolidating Institutes in its public comments at the SMRB’s May and September meetings due to its concern that there may be greater pressure on NIH to merge or “cluster” the budgets of other Institutes. In 2001, then-NIH Director Harold Varmus, M.D., who has subsequently returned to the NIH as the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Director, proposed to cluster the budgets/programs of the 27 I/Cs into six units, including a “Brain Institute” which would have incorporated the NEI. NAEVR has consistently opposed this action, including fighting a similar provision in the draft NIH reauthorization legislation in the 2004-2006 timeframe, since it feared that “front of the eye” corneal research could be minimized in a “Brain Institute.” During the SMRB’s September discussions, Dr. Varmus supported the concept of an Addiction Institute and commented that “he’d be happy to see his 2001 proposal back on the table for consideration.” As a result, NAEVR will stay vigilant on this issue.

NAEVR will attend the SMRB’s December 7 meeting, at which it is expected to recommend a comprehensive NIH strategy regarding translational research.