With addiction field leaders anticipating a post-election clarification on which research portfolios would become part of a combined national research institute for alcohol and illegal drugs, word instead arrived late last week that the two existing institutes will not be joined together after all.
In a surprising announcement released last Friday, Nov. 16, National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, stated that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) will retain their separate institutional identities, “while strengthening their ongoing efforts to work more closely with each other and with related research programs at other [NIH] institutes and centers.”
Judging from the brief statement that NIH issued at week’s end, both economics and input from the field might have been at play in the final decision not to “merge” the two NIH institutes (though it already had been indicated that there would be no wholesale combination of the entire existing research bases of NIDA and NIAAA).
Collins stated in his announcement that the decision to pursue functional rather than structural integration for NIDA and NIAAA came “after rigorous review and extensive consultation with stakeholders.” He added that recent strides at NIH in coordinating addiction-related research across all of its institutes has boosted his confidence that NIH can achieve the goals sought by its Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB) without pursuing the avenue of a combined alcohol and drug institute that the advisory panel had recommended.
Collins added, “Moreover, given budget uncertainties, NIH must focus on advancing the entire biomedical research enterprise. The time, energy, and resources required for a major structural reorganization are not warranted, especially given that functional integration promises to achieve equivalent scientific and public health objectives.”
The alcoholism research field had consistently stood as the primary source of opposition to a structural reorganization. With NIAAA’s budget already less than half that of NIDA, alcoholism researchers worried about the implications of a combined institute that might lose some key research portfolios in areas such as fetal alcohol syndrome and that also could incorporate new research agendas such as the study of process addictions.
This constituency continued to push hard against a combined institute in recent months, insisting that the reorganization was not necessarily a done deal.
Look for field reactions to the NIH announcement in the coming days on this website.