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NIH Director Outlines Reorganization Plan for ’Substance Use, Abuse, and Addiction’ Research

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The director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that a proposal to reorganize the federal government’s major research agencies on substance abuse and addictions into a single entity “makes scientific sense,” and has outlined a planning process to create a new Institute for “substance use, abuse, and addiction research and related public health initiatives.”

In a November 18 message sent to NIH employees and in a press release issued the same day, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., said a new single Institute would “enhance NIH’s efforts to address the substance abuse and addiction problems that take such a terrible toll on our society.”

This September, an NIH expert panel recommended the reorganization to Dr. Collins. The proposal has engendered significant discussion and debate in the addictions research community. Some opponents have expressed concern that the reorganization would diminish focus on alcohol problems such as drunk driving or teenage drinking that don’t necessarily involve addiction. Collins’ statement last week perhaps notably uses “substance use, abuse, and addiction” phrasing throughout.

Collins said a new task force will spend several months in a top-to-bottom assessment of all 27 NIH Institutes and Centers — including the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — to identify and recommend research programs to be moved into the proposed new Institute. The task force is expected to submit a detailed restructuring plan for the Director’s consideration in the summer of 2011.

If the NIH Director accepts the plan next summer, it moves to the desk of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who — if she approves the plan — will notify Congress. Congress would then have six months during which it could block the restructuring by passing legislation; if it doesn’t, NIH could then finalize the changes.

In his message to NIH employees, Dr. Collins announced a Dec. 1 “town hall” meeting of the NIAAA and NIDA staffs to provide more information and answer questions. Promising a “thoughtful, systematic” planning process that consults the stakeholders affected by the proposal, Collins also said that in the meantime, addictions research across NIH will continue “with all due speed” under the existing structure.

More information:

Statement of NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., on Recommendation to Create a Single Institute for Substance Use, Abuse, and Addiction Research (NIH website)

Advisory Group Recommends New Addictions Institute Replace NIAAA, NIDA (JoinTogether.org Blog)

Experts Mull Impact of Proposed Single National Addictions Institute (JoinTogether.org Feature Story)

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