Friends of NIDA coalition hosts congressional briefing on developing medications to treat addiction

Central to the discussion were the questions of why pharmaceutical companies have reduced their research in the area of psychopharmaceuticals in recent years and what incentives are needed to foster more research on addiction treatment

On March 1, the Friends of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) coalition in conjunction with the Congressional Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus hosted a congressional briefing, Developing Medications to Treat Addiction: Challenges for Science, Policy, and Practice (PDF, 70KB), the 16th in the in the Charles R. Schuster Congressional Briefing Series. The briefing, co-sponsored by 24 organizations and organized by APA’s Science Government Relations Office, drew an audience of over 90, including staff from 23 Senate and House offices, as well as federal agency staff and members of the research advocacy community. 

The briefing featured a roundtable discussion among national experts from both NIDA and the pharmaceutical industry. The panelists were NIDA Director Nora Volkow, who gave a presentation on NIDA’s research portfolio on medication development, Phil Skolnick, director of NIDA’s Division of Pharmacotherapies and Medical Consequences of Drug Abuse, David Gastfriend, vice president for scientific communications at Alkermes, and Shaun Thaxter, president of Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals. 

Central to the discussion were the questions of why pharmaceutical companies have reduced their research in the area of psychopharmaceuticals in recent years and what incentives are needed to foster more research on addiction treatment. The panelists discussed challenges for companies including the high costs of research and development with uncertain return on investments. Panelists explained how the market for addiction treatment is different from that of other medications and discussed the problem of access to patient populations due to factors including the stigma of addiction and patients’ willingness to seek treatment.  

Panelists agreed that healthcare reform will likely increase access to patient populations, presenting new opportunities for the field, and they emphasized the need for the system to be ready for these new patients. They also discussed the need for incorporating addiction treatment training into formal medical education, and thanked the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) for their commitment to this cause. Volkow talked about NIDA’s development of curriculum for the Centers of Excellence, which she would like to see adopted by medical schools, along with training programs for nurses and pharmacists.  

Panelists shared examples of successful past collaborations between NIDA and pharmaceutical companies in developing treatments, including CURB (Cocaine Use Reduction with Buprenorphine), now used by NIDA in the Clinical Trials Network, and they discussed promise for the development of new drugs—Volkow and Skolnick conveyed that there are multiple new targets with potential for development and noted the need to bridge development phases with pharmaceutical companies.

Charles O’Keefe of Virginia Commonwealth University moderated the discussion and made a special point to laud the work of the psychological science community in the development of behavioral and psychosocial interventions that are the mainstays of addiction therapy, especially for disorders like methamphetamine addiction, for which no pharmacotherapies currently exist. 

Visit this webpage for more information on medications development at NIDA.