Request for Information (RFI): Input into the Scientific Strategic Plan for the proposed National Institute of Substance Use and Addiction Disorders

Comments Deadline: May 11, 2012, 11:59pm EDT

There are a few areas worthy of consideration by NIH:

Policy Research. It is critical that the new institute take into account the importance of policy-relevant research. There is a paucity of current data on many policy interventions and NISUAD has an opportunity to dramatically change that reality. Too often, NIDA and NIAAA have hesitated at the chance to conduct true drug policy analysis, likely because this is not seen as “basic” science more typical of NIH institutes (notable exceptions are recent research into drugged driving and the impacts of “medical” marijuana done by NIDA, and research into alcohol taxes done by NIAAA). Given that drug abuse is a complex bio-behavioral disorder, sharing many — but not all — of the attributes of traditional diseases more typically the focus of NIH (like heart disease or cancer), NISAUD cannot afford to overlook this critical area. Practitioners in the field of prevention, treatment, and law enforcement need evaluations of their work in order to refine what they do and make necessary changes in policy, if required. No other entity in the government has the ability to conduct true drug policy analysis in a way that would be taken to scale. It is critical that NISAUD not ignore this area.

Prevention. Prevention is the most cost-effective, yet in many cases the least understood, intervention in the field of drug abuse. It is critical that NISAUD take a leadership role, as NIDA and NIAAA have in the past, in funding and seeing through prevention interventions that go beyond simple school-based programs and focus on environmental factors. Included here would be an increase in type 2 translational research, including studies of the adoption, implementation, and sustainability of tested and effective programs, policies, and practices in communities, services settings, and populations. This research would ensure that existing knowledge results in reductions in the incidence and prevalence of alcohol or drug abuse and addictions.

Drug-Related Crime. Unlike many of the diseases focused on at NIH, drug abuse fuels crime – through the psycho-physiological changes done as a result of drug taking to the market dynamics of illegal and quasi-legal substances. It is no longer possible to ignore this connection and NISAUD should work closely with the National Institute of Justice to evaluate criminal justice system interventions and bring the most successful ones to scale.

HIV/AIDS. Given the nexus between HIV/AIDS and drug use, abuse, and addiction, it is critical that NISAUD continue the work being done by NIDA and NIAAA on HIV/AIDS. This should be done in coordination with other federal entities (ONAP, CDC, OGAC/PEPFAR).

The Development of Future Leaders and Researchers in Substance Abuse. Currently, NIDA and NIAAA are active through pre- and post-doctoral programs aimed at training the next generation of behavioral scientists. This should continue in the new Institute.

The five issues listed above – the expansion of policy-relevant research, the focus on prevention, criminal justice, HIV/AIDS, and future leader development — represent areas critical to the current picture of drug abuse today. If NISAUD were to expand focus on all of those subjects – and decide to work closely with sister organizations both in and outside of NIH (e.g. ONDCP, SAMHSA, ONAP, CDC, FDA, etc.), major progress on the national goals to reduce drug abuse and its consequences could be made.

Sincerely,

Kevin A. Sabet, Ph.D.

President, Policy Solutions Lab