APA Organizes Congressional Briefing on Addiction Treatment

Federal leaders present new strategies for treating and preventing drug addiction.

By Christine Jamieson

On May 11, 2010, the Friends of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) presented a Capitol Hill briefing titled “Developing Medications to Treat Addiction: Implications for Policy and Practice,” with speakers Nora D. Volkow, Director of NIDA, and A. Thomas McLellan, Deputy Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). 

The American Psychological Association’s Science Government Relations Office organized this educational event, the 14th in a series of briefings, on behalf of the Friends of NIDA, a coalition committed to the elimination of drug abuse and addiction through education, advocacy, and the promotion of support for NIDA’s research agenda. APA supports development of more effective treatment for addiction, including behavioral and medication treatments. Twenty-five scientific and professional associations sponsored the briefing along with the Congressional Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus.  The briefing drew an audience of congressional staff members, addiction treatment professionals, and advocates.

Dr. Volkow began by presenting new medication research supported by NIDA (see presentation slides (PDF, 730KB)).  Pointing out the lack of effective approved medications to treat cocaine, marijuana, and opiate addictions, Dr. Volkow described the major barriers to funding for medication research and proposed strategies to address those barriers.  Major barriers to funding included the stigma of addiction, lack of pharmaceutical industry involvement, cost and length of drug discovery process, and regulatory issues surrounding controlled substances. (NIDA has also released an information sheet (PDF, 170KB) on its medication development research.)

Next, Dr. McLellan, a psychologist, conveyed the state of drug addiction in the U.S. and illustrated the need for an improved infrastructure to deliver medication and other forms of addiction treatment (see presentation slides (PDF, 241KB)).  Dr. McLellan discussed the nature and course of drug use and addiction and the necessity for treatment, including specific medications and behavioral therapies.  Data on specialty care and community corrections were provided, including the finding that 75% of drug addiction treatment specialty programs have no psychologist or social worker on staff.  Dr. McLellan emphasized the importance of involving appropriately trained and experienced professionals in addiction treatment.

This congressional briefing was particularly timely as the ONDCP released its National Drug Control Strategy the same day, proposing the creation of prevention-prepared communities.  Dr. McLellan outlined this multifaceted communication and intervention strategy, which involves schools, parents, law enforcement, health-care providers, and environmental policies, to target children and adults at what are known to be the most susceptible stages of life.  In a press release, APA applauded the ONDCP’s evidence-based, public health approach.

Following the presentations, congressional staff members were eager to learn how Congress can act to promote medication development research and addiction treatment.  One major focus of the question and answer session was the role that Congress can play in incentivizing pharmaceutical companies to fund research on medications to treat addiction.

Nora D. Volkow

Nora D. Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, speaks at Friends of NIDA briefing on Capitol Hill, organized by APA.

A. Thomas McLellan

Psychologist  A. Thomas McLellan, Deputy Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, at Friends of NIDA briefing.

Christine Jamieson is Science Policy Associate in the APA Science Government Relations Office.