Dr. Alan I. Leshner, NIDA director since 1994, was recently appointed chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest general science organization and publisher of the peer-reviewed journal, Science. Dr. Glen R. Hanson, Director of NIDA's Division of Neuroscience and Behavioral Research, was named Acting Director of the Institute by Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, Acting Director of the National Institutes of Health.
Under Dr. Leshner's stewardship, NIDA made great strides in bringing the full power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction by supporting research across a broad range of disciplines and fostering the rapid application of important findings to both prevention and treatment of drug abuse and addiction. NIDA launched a number of communications initiatives to ensure that a wide range of audiences, including the general public, would understand that science has shown that drug addiction is a chronic, but treatable brain disease. These efforts were particularly successful in bridging what Dr. Leshner termed the "great disconnect" between the public's perception of drug abuse and addiction and the scientific facts about the disease.
During Dr. Leshner's tenure, NIDA-supported researchers cloned the molecular sites in the brain where every major drug of abuse has its initial effect. NIDA research also has demonstrated that using drugs repeatedly over time changes brain structure and function in fundamental and long-lasting ways that are part of the transition to compulsive abuse of drugs. Modern neuroscience techniques have enabled scientists to identify specific brain circuits involved in craving, euphoria, and other effects of addictive drugs.
Drug Abuse Treatment
NIDA researchers applied the findings of neuroscience and behavioral research to design potential new treatment compounds and develop a broad array of effective medications and behavioral treatments for drug abuse. The opiate treatment medication buprenorphine, which is nearing approval by the Food and Drug Administration, holds the promise of moving addiction treatment into the mainstream of medical practice. In 1999, NIDA established a national infrastructure of research centers and community treatment providers in the National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network (CTN). Science-based treatment approaches are being tested and refined in the CTN with a variety of special populations in over 100 drug treatment clinics across the Nation. In 2000, NIDA joined with the National Cancer Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to create Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Centers-seven research institutes coordinating collaborative research across multiple scientific disciplines to develop new responses to tobacco use and nicotine addiction.
Prevention of Drug Use and Abuse
NIDA led the way in developing effective programs to prevent young people from starting to use drugs and identified risk and protective factors that affect whether a person will use drugs. Prevention programs based on these findings have been tested under controlled conditions and replicated in many settings, resulting in reductions in drug use and in other antisocial behaviors and attitudes among adolescents and young adults. NIDA currently is launching a national prevention initiative in which researchers will collaborate with local leaders to use existing service delivery systems to disseminate research-based programs rapidly into community settings.
Tracking Drug Abuse
NIDA continues to track and respond to changing drug use trends. By gathering both quantitative and qualitative data on drug use, NIDA's Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG) serves as an early warning system to identify major drug abuse trends across the country. Significant increases in the abuse of methamphetamine, MDMA, and other club drugs among young people in recent years were detected first by CEWG, enabling NIDA to respond quickly to the crisis. NIDA-supported research on the health and social consequences of addiction, including the relationship and risks associated with injection drug abuse and HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, tuberculosis, and sexually transmitted diseases has greatly increased knowledge about these diseases and fueled effective prevention and treatment responses.
Providing Accurate Information About Drug Abuse
Under Dr. Leshner's leadership, NIDA's widespread distribution of accurate, science-based information through a variety of media has succeeded in changing the public's perception of drug abuse and addiction. In 1995, NIDA launched its home page on the World Wide Web; today nearly half a million visitors access the site each month. In 1996, NIDA began a series of Town Meetings that brought the latest research findings to local communities and gathered information on how the Institute could support their drug abuse prevention and treatment efforts. The knowledge derived from more than 25 years of NIDA-supported research was summarized in two landmark publications: Preventing Drug Use Among Children and Adolescents and Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment have been distributed to hundreds of thousands of people across the Nation and around the world.