NIDA / NIAAA Merger Advances to NIH Director Collins' Desk

Sep 16 2010 Published by under NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics

The CPDDblog alerts us to the fact that the Scientific Management Review Board [roster] voted 12/3 in favor of dissolving NIDA and NIAAA and create a new Substance Abuse/Addictions Institute to replace the two. In this action the SMRB was selecting from options that were developed by the Substance Use, Abuse, and Addiction (SUAA) Workgroup Charge.

Brief notes from me on this topic are here, here here and here.

My thoughts on the wisdom of creating a new Institute from the ashes of NIDA and NIAAA are pretty simple.

1-If any Institutes of the NIH are to be merged these two are at the very top of the list. Really, if these two aren't merged, there is no argument for merging Institutes.

2-From a scientific communication standpoint I really like the optics of making it very clear that alcohol is an addictive drug, just like all the others.

3-I'm not buying the "NIAAA's non-brain related portfolio (think cirrhosis) will be lost" argument one bit. Nicotine research is scattered all over the place- the NCI has a huge amount, probably even to rival NIDA's nicotine portfolio. I see no reason alcoholic cirrhosis and whatever else is of concern can't land in other ICs if not the new, yet to be named National Institute On Addictive Drugs.

4-As far as securing research funding goes, I'm not one that is frightened of this. There will be approximately the same sorts of Divisions and Branches and a whole boatload of the same POs retained. My life won't change that much.

5-It will be a big loss that Nora Volkow, current NIDA Director, cannot possibly be selected to head a new Institute. This would be too much like NIDA "winning". They have to find someone new, inevitably someone with impeccable alcohol and non-alcohol substance abuse research credentials.

What are you thinking on this folks? A no-brainer that has been frustratingly stalled by whiners from the NIAAA side? A horrible idea? The end of life as we know it?

As always DearReader, you should be aware that I have may have previously held, currently hold and/or be actively seeking to hold research funds through NIDA and/or NIAAA. I am an interested party and you should read my remarks with that in mind.

18 responses so far

  • Dirk Hanson says:

    A sensible merger, since the division never made much research sense in the first place, did it? Will this breathe new life into a rather moribund NIAAA (terrible name, would be happy to see it go), or muck things up for the NIDA folks? And do we really have to lose Nora Volkow in order to accomplish this? Bummer.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    A Program Officer (not in NIDA or NIAAA) once mentioned something that stuck with me -- the cost of bureaucratic "streamlining" initiatives often exceed the gains in terms of time, resources, and even the money spent on new letterhead, website development, etc.

    I wonder if a better solution would be to: 1) assume there is some overlap and reduplication of effort; 2) task Nora Volkow and Kenneth Warren to meet and/or deputize staff to identify this overlap; resulting in 3) a list of recommended program cuts totalling ~5% of the combined budget.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I believe something along the lines of what you are suggesting was one of the options that was on the table pretty deep into the game. I think they called it "functional" versus "structural" reorganization. NIAAA certainly favored this approach.

  • juniorprof says:

    Makes good sense to me, so long as it doesn't cut into funds for NIDA's pain portfolio, of course. Would also hate to see Dr Volkow leave her post as a result of this. Then again, I imagine there comes a point for all of these institute directors when they'd likely be very happy to get back to their own science on a full-time basis and she surely still has a long career ahead of her.

  • drugmonkey says:

    so long as it doesn’t cut into funds for NIDA’s pain portfolio, of course

    you are as bad as those alcohol researchers!!!!!!

  • juniorprof says:

    what do you want me to do, volunteer for a paycut :-)

  • Cut the total fucken funding and give it to some fucken decent ICs! lolz

  • colbert says:

    Decision itself notwithstanding, perhaps the most memorable thing about the SMRB meeting may be that it marked the beginning of the end for former NIH director and current NCI director Harold Varmus.

    Varmus would have done well to remember the recent example of (Ret.) Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. Launching his SMRB remarks via a direct assault on current NIH director Francis Collins, by telling Collins in slightly less crude but nonetheless equally clear terms that if Collins was going to dare to sit in the chair Varmus once occupied, he (Collins) had better grow a pair, and quickly, the former director spent the rest of the time grandstanding his way through the meeting. Collins, too much a scholar and a gentleman to enter that fray, let Varmus have all the rope he could possibly use to hang himself.

    Vamus is a brilliant scholar, but as his previous stint at NIH demonstrated, he is by no means a diplomat. That may work in some contexts (although it ultimately didn't serve him well previously at NIH, either), but the current Administration has made it clear that no matter how bright and capable one might be (see: McChrystal), demeaning your boss in public puts you on the path to "spending more time with your family." That Collins is a brilliant scientist in his own right, highly-esteemed by those in the Administration, and -- unlike Varmus -- someone you can put in public situations without embarassment, says that it's a given who will prevail now that it has become publicly obvious that a former director can't return to NIH in a lesser role when such egos are involved.

    Epic fail, Harold.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Do tell, Colbert! Apparently the videocast of the whole meeting is up -- can you provide a timestamp for some of the fireworks?

  • Anonymous says:

    I had heard a rumor that Dr. Volkow was thinking of stepping down after a long and successful career... this same rumor-mongerer heard that Antonello Bonci was going to be the new director, which I was not fully on board with...

    (sorry for anonymity, don't want to jeopardize my rep)

  • colbert says:

    archived videocast is not up yet...i just checked their website; what is there is the link used to access the live version, now out of date. glad to provide timestamp whenever they get their stuff up there. based on previous meetings, it takes at least a few days/weeks.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    7 hour taped version of Day 1 is up

  • Paul King says:

    Learning of the incident protagonized by Varmus is a true disappointment. I guess that the best minds have also glitches and, hopefully, Varmus realize that this one was a huge one and learn from his mistake. Let´s hope that these mistakes don´t happen again and NCI can have continuity at this very important time.

  • colbert says:

    need afternoon of Day 2

  • drugmonkey says:

    re: Bonci, this is perhaps a confusion with the fact that he's been selected to head the Intramural research component of NIDA?

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Erin Winstanley, Erin Winstanley. Erin Winstanley said: NIDA & NIAAA merger approved by workgroup, still needs NIH Director approval [...]

  • Eugene says:

    Colbert - I concur. As a witness, you could see the measured-yet-annoyed reaction of the more diplomatic Collins at Varmus' grandstanding. When Tabak suggested a measured approach due to the nuts and bolts complexity of reorganizing, Varmus dismissed it as "easy." Whether he thinks so or not, it's not his decision and the task is not his. Regardless, when time came to for the SMRB to make a motion on the NIDA-NIAAA merger, Varmus was (of course) the one to make the motion: "I say we combine the institutes" was his motion. SMRB staff had to kindly remind the Board that they themselves do not merge ICs, yet make recommendations to do so for the NIH Director. With his ego put aside for a brief moment, Varmus sheepishly suggested new language "I recommend that the NIDA and NIAAA be merged into a new Addition-related Institute."

  • williams says:

    SMRB day 2 is out.

    Yes, I think that Varmus said: I say, we CREATE ...and it was impressive the elegant reminder by the Staff. I think that Varmus has to recognize that, as a former NIH Director and Nobel Prize, he has a great responsibility in mentoring wherever he is and goes. Not to lead people to continue to admire him, we already do indeed, but to be within the SMRB the persuasive voice that helps the NIH Director to effectively accomplish the NIH goals for the country and the world. I think that he meant it but, somehow, he got distracted by his own world. It happens and can happen to anyone.

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