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The Buddy System—Forming Partnerships on Capitol Hill

Coalitions are one of the most effective mechanisms APA Science Policy staff use to leverage a limited set of resources. Our work with other organizations is also an expression of cooperation and collegiality that enhances the role of behavioral sciences within the broader scientific community.

By Geoff Mumford

Coalitions are one of the most effective mechanisms APA Science Policy staff use to leverage a limited set of resources. Our work with other organizations is also an expression of cooperation and collegiality that enhances the role of behavioral sciences within the broader scientific community. And so we are pleased to have played a central role as several coalitions have been reinvented, emerged from the ashes, or born anew. While some coalitions are generously financed, fully-staffed, well-oiled machines, others are loose affiliations, cobbled together to solve a particular policy problem or to take advantage of a new political opportunity. Examples of the former include APA-supported Research!America and the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research Funding, which deserve much of the credit for the doubling of the NIH budget, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids-which leads the charge for tobacco policy reform here in DC. Examples of the latter include the Coalition for the Advancement of Health Through Behavioral and Social Science Research (CAHT-BSSR), co-chaired by Science Policy staffer Pat Kobor, and the Coalition to Protect Research (CPR), co-chaired by Science Policy staffer Karen Studwell. These latter examples are also useful illustrations of the proactive vs. reactive position we find ourselves in with respect to advocacy. Pat's coalition was conceived as a means to enhance the profile of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at NIH, while Karen's coalition was constructed as a bulwark against congressional threats to peer reviewed research at that same agency.

Those of you in the substance abuse research community may have noted with despair that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) was at the bottom rung of the funding ladder for fiscal year 2005. That last place finish, along with a growing recognition of emerging drug abuse issues, led several organizations to rally in support of NIDA. Active participation in this coalition gives APA an extra opportunity to put our mouth where psychology's money is: NIDA recently surpassed NIMH as the leading NIH funder of behavioral and social science research. Patterned after other Institute-specific coalitions (e.g., the Friends of NICHD), the Friends of NIDA was formed last summer with generous support from the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD), Reckitt Benckiser (the company that worked closely with NIDA in the development of buprenorphine for the treatment of opiate dependence) and various individual donors.

Since then, under the capable leadership of CPDD Board Member Dr. Bill Dewey and Charles O'Keeffe, Friends of NIDA has assembled an impressive Board of Advisors including former NIDA Directors, ONDCP Drug Czars, and Congressmen. An Executive Committee, Chaired by Dr. Dewey, has met monthly here at APA headquarters since December and the coalition continues to gain momentum. Seeking to gain name recognition while advancing worthy NIDA-oriented action on Capitol Hill, the Friends of NIDA have drafted several letters that have been sent to every Member of the House urging broader participation in Congressional Caucuses devoted to substance abuse issues including treatment research, methamphetamine, and tobacco. Other letters have advocated for a 6% increase in NIDA's FY 06 appropriation. We have drafted written testimony for inclusion in the Congressional Record for both the House and the Senate. Additionally, the Friends are following up on written funding requests with group visits to key appropriations staff to help them understand the importance of NIDA's research portfolio.

Other educational efforts continue. Charles O'Keeffe has organized The Friends of the National Institute on Drug Abuse web site, with content contributions from several members of the executive committee. A briefing series that began with a standing room only breakfast event in July 2004, was followed last month by a second briefing entitled, "Effectively Breaking the Cycle of Drugs and Crime: Research and Treatment Provide the Answers," which has served to raise awareness of NIDA's Criminal Justice Drug Addiction Treatment Services (CJDATS) research portfolio. The speakers included NIDA Director Nora Volkow, MD, who provided an overview of the NIDA criminal justice treatment research portfolio. Former NFL football player Dexter Manley, Director of Community Outreach, Second Genesis, Inc. , shared his journey through addiction, prison, treatment, and recovery. APA Fellow Dwayne Simpson, PhD, Director of the Institute of Behavioral Research, Texas Christian University, detailed treatment research results involving partnerships between scientists, offenders, and the criminal justice system. The briefing drew more than 120 guests, including personal and committee staff from 50 House and Senate offices.

We were especially pleased that Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Co-Chair of the Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus with Congressman Jim Ramstad (R-MN), took time out of his busy schedule to provide concluding remarks on the importance of substance abuse research, research funding, and parity. Rep. Kennedy alluded to a comprehensive parity bill he will be introducing with Congressman Ramstad. Although that bill is still in the discussion phase, readers may be interested in Rep. Ramstad's bill H.R. 1258, the "Time for Recovery and Equal Access to Treatment in America (TREAT America) Act," introduced March 14.

Read the H.R 1258 Press Release [PDF 20K]

The Friends of NIDA plan to sponsor four educational briefings a year and future briefings may focus on the Clinical Trials Network, NIDA's developmental research portfolio, or advances in the prevention and treatment of nicotine dependence.

Some of the organizations participating in the Friends of NIDA do so mostly by lending their names while others, like those represented on the Executive Committee, lend active volunteer staff support. Regardless of how organizations lend their support, we can never have too many "friends." So if you know of a group that doesn't currently identify with our coalition, please urge them to consider becoming part of this dynamic team.