The Merger of NIDA and NIAAA: Here We Go!

April 30, 2009

The whispers have been steadily gaining strength for a good while now. Gossip is rampant. People are reporting their NIDA contacts as doing a lot of “gloating”. Nothing really bloggable until now.
The Research Society on Alcoholism has issued a review of a just completed two day meeting to decide what to do. I’m mulling over the brief report, more later.
Update 050109:
Links to the NIH Scientific Management Review Board Agenda, Federal Register Notice and a webcast are here.
The RSA overview text is here.
I think we can safely say the traditional alcohol research constituencies are registering a vote against merger.
The NRC/IOM report Enhancing the Vitality of the National Institutes of Health: Organizational Change to Meet New Challenges (2003) is here. The recommendation on the process of consolidation starts on page 70. On the next page I note two specific mergers were proposed, NIDA/NIAAA and NIGMS/NHGRI, right from the start. I have no dog in the latter hunt but the NIDA/NIAAA is a “no duh” as far as I am concerned. I will admit this is because I am only vaguely aware of the arguments for keeping alcohol separate. I’ll be looking to hear those arguments in the coming months. Another interesting proposal is on page 73. This mentions NIMH and NINDS briefly but together this might argue that all four perhaps be collected into an omnibus Brain Institute. This is not as crazy as you might think. The NCI budget is about $4.8 billion, the NIMH/NINDS/NIDA/NIAAA total would be about $4.3 billion.

No Responses Yet to “The Merger of NIDA and NIAAA: Here We Go!”

  1. microfool Says:

    Was the two-day meeting the NIH Scientific Management Review Board Meeting?
    I killed both days completely, watching intently and only missing parts as necessary for child-rearing.


  2. Pinus Says:

    Well, if there was a time where the higher ups wanted to do a merge, with no NIAAA director and no NIH director, it seems like now would be it.


  3. Horseman Says:

    I know a number of old dudes in dark corners around the country that are terrified they’re now going to have to learn how to do real science.


  4. Pain Man Says:

    merging AAA with DA would wipe out a very large amount of alcohol research. creating a single brain institute would wipe out a very large amount of drug abuse research. is that what the people want?


  5. DrugMonkey Says:

    merging AAA with DA would wipe out a very large amount of alcohol research. creating a single brain institute would wipe out a very large amount of drug abuse research.
    This is one credible hypothesis but far from a foregone conclusion. Suppose the entire budget of NIAAA goes to NIDA along with all the existing grants? You have zero change in extramural research funding. This may come at the benefit (so to speak, sorry Program peeps) of reduced programmatic overhead meaning a slight gain for substance abuse across the board.


  6. Pinus Says:

    The problem is that a good deal of NIAAA’s research relates to non-addiction issues. That is what would be wiped out.
    And most likely, alcohol addiction research would get floored, because the one institute that sponsors it would be gone.
    Maybe they should start doling money out based on economic impact…for all the excitement over cocaine research at NIDA, how does it’s financial and public health impact compare to alcohol, or nicotine?


  7. Dr. Feelgood Says:

    I think it would be good for appearance purposes. Alcohol abuse is not considered “drug abuse”. By merging it under the umbrella of DA, it may give a more accurate reflection of reality which is that alcohol abuse IS drug abuse.
    My guess is that over time, alcohol research may suffer a little in favor of controlled substance research. My bigger worry is that politicians who think in terms of economies-of-scale might think that the merged institute deserves less money than the two need separately.
    Doc F


  8. DrugMonkey Says:

    Pinus, I don’t think it necessarily wipes out, say, liver research. But it may be the case that other parts of the current NIAAA portfolio go off to other ICs, NIDA not being the best home for everything. No biggie. The comment about relative impacts is spot on and actually something I might welcome myself. I think the cocaine and heroin fetishes could use some re-adjusting.
    Dr. Feelgood, totally agree about the messaging part. Although I do wonder at this point if anyone really doubts that alcohol is an addictive drug like any other?


  9. Monisha Pasupathi Says:

    I don’t have a serious stake in any of these mergers myself. But, I’d wonder about whether an omnibus _brain_ institute might lead to increased over-emphasis on some types of methodologies over others in the broader area of mental health, though i like the acknowledgement that drug abuse, alcohol addiction, and mental health are sort of, um, related, and i think that the current splitting does not make so much sense to me.


  10. microfool Says:

    I don’t have a stake in any of the proposed mergers, but I think one aspect to this is that while the overarching organization will change, one thing that probably won’t change is the employment status of the relevant program staff.
    I imagine that program officers have a vested interest in the programs they oversee and might figure out ways to keep key parts of their former research portfolios funded, thus offering some resilience to against the changes resulting from any blending of the institutes. This may only be a short-term resilience, though.


  11. NeuroPostdoc Says:

    I never understood why NIDA & NIAAA were separate in the first place… For that matter…why are they separate from NIMH?


  12. b Says:

    The line in the NRC/IOM report that really jumps out at me (page 72) is:
    “Few studies investigate alcohol and other substances of abuse at the same time, even though few drug addicts abuse only one substance.”
    This makes sense since a NIDA grant proposal doesn’t benefit from discussion alcohol and a NIAAA proposal doesn’t benefit from discussing other drugs. Assuming there’s good data to back up this sentence, any opinions against a merger need to directly address this major gap in research.


  13. Pain Man Says:

    at the basic science level, studying one drug of abuse at a time would just seem to be a part of well-controlled experimentation. what the field has seemingly done in lieu is propose common final mechanisms/neural substrates that mediate dependence to all abused drugs (e.g. dopamine in the mesoaccumbens system).


  14. pinus Says:

    I think pain man hit the nail on the head.
    I know of people (funded through NIAAA) that study nicotine alcohol interactions, so there is some officially funded work.
    However, what most often happens is that labs will have a NIAAA grant and a NIDA grant working on similar things.


  15. BikeMonkey Says:

    Why Pinus, that almost sounds like….double dipping. 🙂


  16. pinus Says:

    Doubel-dipping indeed!
    It is a fun game…go to pubmed, and plug in your favorite addiction search terms…and then check out the grants from PI’s who have multiple grants. Some of them are very unique. some of them are absurdly overlapping, to the point that I am confused why there is no oversight.


  17. A merger would just be the 1970’s deja vu at NIH. Read the testimony given at the Congressional hearings for the establishment of NIAAA and then, a couple of years later, NIDA as separate institute. Few new questions are raised such as what will happen to Director Volkow’s research that is currently overseen by NIAAA, how is clinical space to be allocated, what happens to the alcohol and nutrition research, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder research and the remainder of the NIAAA research portfolio. The question which may be more important than the scientific management concerns the role of ONDCP supervising the NIDA research agenda and budget. Should ONDCP supervise alcohol research like the “war on drugs”? Strong clear agendas for research and application to practice are needed on alcohol, other drugs, and mental illness. Alcohol is not just another drug. Current structures do not hinder research as much as the disruptive clashes of personalities who used to be at NIH. The merger is much more about people than science.


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