Government Relations Update

NIH task force begins planning for new addictions institute

APA presses for an open reorganization process with input from external scientists.

By Geoff Mumford

As reported in the December 2010 issue of Psychological Science Agenda,  Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, has assembled a Substance Use, Abuse, and Addiction (SUAA) Task Force to oversee the planned reorganization of NIH support for research in that area.  It is expected that a new institute focused on substance use, abuse, and addiction will be established, encompassing most of the research portfolios that are currently housed within the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as well as perhaps portions of other institutes’ portfolios.

At its first meeting on January 11, 2011, the SUAA Task Force discussed the scope of the reorganization and the use of subject matter experts from within NIH to inform those deliberations.  Responding to the Task Force, the Advisory Council of NIDA unanimously passed a resolution (PDF, 47 KB) at its February meeting affirming the need to include external scientific input to the process as well.  Subsequently, the American Psychological Association and four of its sister organizations, the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD), the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA), the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) and the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT), sent a letter (PDF, 194 KB) to the Task Force urging it to include external scientific expertise from the beginning of its discussions and requesting to meet with the Task Force.  Lawrence Tabak, co-chair of the Task Force and NIH Deputy Director, has agreed to a meeting with the group, though no date has been set yet.

Meanwhile, at a February 11 meeting, the SUAA Task Force began to examine the grant portfolios of NIAAA and NIDA in order to identify which parts should be incorporated into a new institute and which parts might be shifted to other existing NIH institutes and centers.  Dr. Tabak provided a public account (PDF, 968 KB) of those Task Force discussions during a meeting of the NIAAA’s Advisory Council on February 17.  He also indicated that he expected the Task Force would release a “straw model” of the reorganization for public comment by late March, 2011, and that a revised draft, based on comments received in April, would be used by NIH Director Collins to inform a final reorganization plan.  This plan would be submitted in May to Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, for her approval.   If the Secretary approves the plan, it would then be relayed to Congress, which would have 180 days to review it.  If Congress does not oppose the plan, a new institute would be established and would be included in the budget planning for Fiscal Year 2013 (and NIAAA and NIDA would be dissolved).

As reassurance that NIH is responsive to external feedback, Tabak made frequent references to the process being used to solicit and incorporate input for another NIH reorganization: the dissolution of the National Center for Research Resources to create the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).  A straw model (PDF, 713 KB) for that reorganization was posted for public comment on January 16 and, some 1256 comments later, a revised plan was posted on the NIH Feedback website on February 22.  Additional details about the transition from NCRR to NCATS are in the President’s 2012 budget justification, but those details have not been linked to the NIH Feedback site.  It is unclear what this bodes for the level of detail that will be included in the straw model for the SUAA reorganization, as there is less pressure to produce budgetary detail given that the proposed implementation is in 2013. 

However, in anticipation of the release of that draft, the APA Science Government Relations Office has created a closed listserv to provide members of the NIAAA and NIDA Advisory Councils, representatives of APA’s Board of Scientific Affairs, and the leadership of CPDD, RSA, SBM and SRNT with a forum to discuss the reorganization.  The two advisory councils are scheduled for a joint meeting with Dr. Collins on April 11.  As part of its review, the SUAA Task Force received presentations from six other institutes whose portfolios could be affected by the reorganization: National Cancer Institute; National Institute of Mental Health; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

It will be important for NIH to establish, in advance of the proposed reorganization, concrete baseline figures for total current funding of SUAA research and the proportions of current funding allocated to different areas of SUAA research.  Estimates of those funding levels (PDF, 210 KB) were presented during the deliberations of the NIH Scientific Management Review Board in 2010 but with the caveat that they did not “reflect official NIH budget numbers.”  APA Science Government Relations staff will continue to press for solid baseline data to which SUAA research portfolios under the proposed reorganization can be compared, and will continue to advocate for the inclusion of input from the external psychological science community as reorganization efforts move forward.


Geoff Mumford is Associate Executive Director for Government Relations in the APA Science Directorate.