Friends of NIDA Coalition meets with Institute Director Nora Volkow

Dr. Volkow provided an overview of current research priorities at NIDA, including drug abuse prevention and treatment as well as HIV/AIDS, and highlighted important new findings in marijuana research

On Oct. 1 the Friends of NIDA held their annual meeting at APA headquarters, where they received an update from NIDA Director Nora Volkow on the institute’s activities and discussed current substance abuse and addiction issues and future coalition activities. Dr. Volkow introduced Jack Stein, the new director of NIDA’s Office of Science Policy and Communications. She thanked the Friends of NIDA for their work over the past eight years and for the coalition’s sponsorship of cash prizes for the NIDA Addiction Science Awards presented to participants in the annual Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) for high school students. She updated the coalition on the current status of the proposal for the reorganization of substance use, abuse and addiction research at NIH and the opportunity for feedback on the process—another public comment period will likely be announced in November. 

Dr. Volkow provided an overview of current research priorities at NIDA, including drug abuse prevention and treatment as well as HIV/AIDS. (Read about the Friends of NIDA’s July Capitol Hill briefing featuring NIDA-funded research, Treatment as Prevention: HIV/AIDS and Substance Abuse.) Dr. Volkow highlighted new important research findings that indicate a significant deleterious effect of marijuana use on IQ. Study participants who used cannabis heavily in their teens and continued through adulthood showed a significant drop in IQ between the ages of 13 and 38—an average of eight points for those who met criteria for cannabis dependence. (Read about the coalition’s March 2011 briefing, Marijuana Use Disorders: Dependence and Treatment Research.) She also discussed prescription drug abuse and opioid addiction and their increasing attention from multiple federal agencies. 

Dr. Volkow said that healthcare reform will present increased opportunities for patient screening and treatment, and stressed the importance of having a proactive screening system in place. She cited the VA hospitals' approach as a good model and identified challenges, including how providers will bill for screening and prevention and the need to strengthen the relationship between treatment programs and the broader healthcare system. Dr. Volkow also highlighted NIDA’s research on medication development and talked about the barriers to research for pharmaceutical companies, including the issue of return on investment as well as the FDA’s high bar for approval and its required outcome of complete abstinence in order for a treatment to be considered successful. (Read about the coalition’s March 2012 briefing on this topic, Developing Medications to Treat Addiction: Challenges for Science, Policy and Practice.)

Individual member organizations talked about their initiatives including dissemination of the recent marijuana research findings to the public using social media, and they discussed current issues including the problem of states decreasing  their funding for treatment programs and imposing preapproval requirements and limits on treatment length, the prevalence of chronic pain and opioid addiction in veteran populations, and the need for the inclusion of substance abuse curricula in medical and other healthcare profession schools as well as in licensing and testing. (Read more about NIDA’s efforts to help fill the gaps in current medical student curricula through their Centers of Excellence for Physician Information.) Lastly, the coalition discussed collaboration with the HIV/AIDS research advocacy community and proposed possible topics for future Capitol Hill briefings.