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National Institute on Drug Abuse -  NIDA NOTES
Volume 11, Number 1
January/February 1996

Expanded Advisory Council Steers NIDA in New Directions

By Robert Mathias, NIDA NOTES Staff Writer

Last year, NIDA's National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse helped the Institute formulate policies on a number of issues critical to the field of drug abuse research. As framed by NIDA Director Dr. Alan I. Leshner at Council meetings in May and September, those issues included the need to bridge the gap between scientific reality and public perceptions of drug abuse, to widen NIDA's research focus to other areas relevant to drug abuse, and to standardize NIDA's drug abuse research center grant program.

This year, as NIDA continues to tackle drug abuse issues that are important to the Nation's public health, the Council promises to play an even larger role in fulfilling its legislative mandate to guide NIDA on scientific issues and policy directions. In response to an Executive Order to reduce the number of advisory boards in the Federal Government, NIDA has abolished its Extramural Science Advisory Board and transferred its oversight of extramural research to the Council. In the process, NIDA is expanding the Council from 12 to 18 members.

"The expanded Council will give us the best mix of professional, scientific, and public policy opinion," says Eleanor Friedenberg, who directs NIDA's Office of Extramural Program Review and serves as executive secretary of the Council.

With 12 scientists and 6 members from the public policy and public health community, the Council will have a broader scientific base as well as increased policy input from the users of the research, she says. "We need that blend on the Council because, although we are a research institute, we are also part of a public health agency," Friedenberg says.

An ongoing issue that the expanded Council will be considering this year is what Dr. Leshner calls "the great disconnect" between scientific reality and public perception of drug abuse. Last year, at the Council's May meeting, NIDA presented its first Public Service Award to Lisa Mojer-Torres for her courage and leadership in helping to educate the public about the value of drug abuse research. Council members noted that the discrimination Mojer-Torres has encountered in her life underscores the need for NIDA's new focus on public information to combat misperceptions about drug abuse.

The Council endorsed NIDA's increased emphasis on public information, which has as its ultimate goal "the replacement of ideology with science by the year 2000," according to Dr. Leshner. To accomplish this, a Council subcommittee devoted to addressing public perceptions has recommended that NIDA increase its efforts to educate the public about drug abuse and addiction by stepping up its research dissemination activities.

As a result, NIDA has already begun to develop new approaches and materials to inform and educate a variety of audiences about what science has learned about drug abuse and addiction. For example, this year NIDA will be taking its public information campaign across the Nation via a series of NIDA-hosted regional "town meetings" designed to communicate science-based facts about the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction to the general public.

The Institute is also increasing its activities to get scientific information out to the field in a form that practitioners and other health professionals can use. For example, NIDA sponsored last year's first National Conference on Marijuana Use: Prevention, Treatment, and Research. The conference presented science-based information that can be used to dispel popular misconceptions and attitudes about marijuana and to prevent and treat marijuana abuse.

The Council also has provided valuable input into the development of NIDA's new research center grant guidelines, which were issued last fall. The guidelines delineate NIDA's policies for its center grant program and provide an underlying set of principles for NIDA research centers. Dr. Leshner noted that Robin I. Kawazoe, who serves as acting director of NIDA's Office of Science Policy and Communications, led the development of the guidelines, but he also stressed "the very important work that the Council has done in framing our new guidelines." A number of specific Council recommendations, such as limiting applicants to one center grant, clarifying center grant review criteria, and providing a separate review committee for center grant applications, are included in the guidelines. (See Director's Column)

As 1996 progresses, NIDA's expanded Council will be guiding NIDA on a number of difficult issues. The Council will continue to address "the great disconnect," attempt to develop an explicit set of principles to guide the administration of drugs to human research subjects in controlled settings, and strive to identify and respond to the scientific concerns of the drug abuse research field about the pending integration of the NIDA and NIH peer review systems.

From NIDA NOTES, January/February, 1996

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