In October 1992, NIDA became part of the National Institutes of Health, United States Department of Health and Human Services. The Institute is organized into divisions and offices, each of which is involved with programs of drug abuse research. Nora Volkow, MD, Leon Trotsky's great-granddaughter, is the current director of NIDA.
According to NIH:
One of NIDA's most important achievements has been the use of science to clarify central concepts in the field of drug abuse...When NIDA began, correct approaches to drug policy and drug treatment were often thought to hinge on determining whether a particular drug was "physically addicting" or only "psychologically addicting." We now know that addiction has biological, behavioral and social components. We now know that addiction has biological, behavioral and social components. It is best defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder characterized by compulsive, often uncontrollable drug craving, seeking, and use, even in the face of negative health and social consequences. NIDA-supported research has also shown that this compulsion results from specific drug effects in the brain. This definition opens the way for broad strategies and common approaches to all drug addiction.
The physical/psychological addiction dichotomy is reflected in the Controlled Substances Act's criteria for drug scheduling. Placement in Schedule III, for instance, requires a finding that "abuse of the drug or other substance may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence." The view espoused by Leshner, which places more emphasis on the "compulsive, uncontrollable" aspect of addictive drug use than on physical withdrawal symptoms, explains NIDA's differing treatment of morphine and cannabis. Morphine is physically addictive, but it typically does not cause compulsive, uncontrollable morphine seeking. By contrast, more than 100,000 people seek treatment each year due to inability to control their marijuana use. Jon Gettman and other supporters of removal of cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act have questioned the legality of basing scheduling decisions on such considerations rather than on physical addiction and physical harm; Gettman stated, "If the federal government wants to keep marijuana in schedule 1, or if they believe that placing marijuana in schedule 2 is a viable policy, then we're going to cross-examine under oath and penalty of perjury every HHS official and scientist who claims that marijuana use is as dangerous as the use of cocaine or heroin. NIDA's viewpoint is supported by the fact that the CSA lists not only physical addictiveness but also "history and current pattern of abuse" and "scope, duration, and significance of abuse" among the factors to be considered in drug scheduling. Indeed, cannabis' retention in Schedule I has been partly due to findings in these areas by FDA, SAMHSA, and NIDA. The January 17, 2001 document Basis for the Recommendation for Maintaining Marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act specifically cites NIDA's National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, Monitoring the Future, Drug Abuse Warning Network, and Community Epidemiology Work Group data.
NIDA has supported many treatments for drug addiction. NIDA-supported studies led to the use of nicotine patches and gums for nicotine addiction treatment. NIDA scientists also developed LAAM, which is used for heroin addiction treatment. Other treatments that were the subject of NIDA research include naltrexone and buprenorphine. NIDA states, "By conservative estimates, every $1 spent on drug addiction saves society $4 to $7 in criminal justice and health care costs.
NIDA has also conducted research into diseases associated with drug use, such as AIDS and Hepatitis. NIDA views drug treatment as a means of modifying risky behavior such as sex and sharing needles. NIDA has also funded studies dealing with harm reduction. A NIDA-supported study on pregnant drug users noted, "professionals in research and treatment must learn to settle for less because insisting on total abstinence may exacerbate the problem." Interestingly, this study was conducted by Marsha Rosenbaum of the Lindesmith Center, an organization that has been critical of federal drug policies.
In 2006, NIDA received an annual budget of $1.01 billion. The U.S. government says NIDA funds more than 85 percent of the world's research about the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction.
While it is not feasible to do a randomized controlled trial of the effectiveness of needle or syringe exchange programs (NEPs/SEPs) in reducing HIV incidence, the majority of studies have shown that NEPs/SEPs are strongly associated with reductions in the spread of HIV when used as a component of comprehensive approach to HIV prevention. NEPs/SEPs increase the availability of sterile syringes and other injection equipment, and for exchange participants, this decreases the fraction of needles in circulation that are contaminated. This lower fraction of contaminated needles reduces the risk of injection with a contaminated needle and lowers the risk of HIV transmission. In addition to decreasing HIV infected needles in circulation through the physical exchange of syringes, most NEPs/SEPs are part of a comprehensive HIV prevention effort that may include education on risk reduction, and referral to drug addiction treatment, job or other social services, and these interventions may be responsible for a significant part of the overall effectiveness of NEPs/SEPs. NEPs/SEPs also provide an opportunity to reach out to populations that are often difficult to engage in treatment.
NIDA will continue to work with research communities and various stakeholders to ensure that the research findings surrounding NEPs/SEPs are presented in a manner consistent with the current state of science. I would like to thank you once again for your interest and your role in reducing the health burden of these diseases on our Nation's citizens.
DAWN, or the Drug Abuse Warning Network, is a program to collect statistics on the frequency of emergency room mentions of use of different types of drugs. This information is widely cited by drug policy officials, who have sometimes confused drug-related episodes—emergency room visits induced by drugs—with drug mentions. The Wisconsin Department of Justice claimed, "In Wisconsin, marijuana overdose visits in emergency rooms equal to heroin or morphine [sic], twice as common as Valium." Common Sense for Drug Policy called this as a distortion, noting, "The federal DAWN report itself notes that reports of marijuana do not mean people are going to the hospital for a marijuana overdose, it only means that people going to the hospital for a drug overdose mention marijuana as a drug they use.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health is an annual study of American drug use patterns. According to NIDA, "The data collection method is in–person interviews conducted with a sample of individuals at their place of residence. ACASI provides a highly private and confidential means of responding to questions to increase the level of honest reporting of illicit drug use and other sensitive behavior." Sixty-eight thousand people were interviewed in 2003, with a weighted response rate for interviewing of 73 percent. Like DAWN, the Survey often draws criticism because of how the data is used by drug policy officials. Rob Kampia of Marijuana Policy Project stated in a September 5, 2002 press release,
The government reaches that exact same conclusion regardless of whether drug use is going up, down, or staying the same. If use is going up they say, `We're in a drug abuse emergency; we need to crack down harder.' If use is going down, they say, `Our strategy is working; we need to crack down harder.' A cynic might think they had made up their minds before even looking at the data.
NIDA literature and National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) research frequently contradict each other. For instance, in the 1980s and 1990s, NIMH researchers found that dopamine plays only a marginal role in marijuana's psychoactive effects. Years later, however, NIDA educational materials continued to warn of the danger of dopamine-related marijuana addiction. NIDA appears to be backing off of these dopamine claims, adding disclaimers to its teaching packets that the interaction of THC with the reward system is not fully understood.
Currently, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a monopoly on the supply of research-grade marijuana, but no other Schedule I drug, that can be used in FDA-approved research. NIDA uses its monopoly power to obstruct research that conflicts with its vested interests. MAPS had two of its FDA-approved medical marijuana protocols rejected by NIDA, preventing the studies from taking place. MAPS has also been trying without success for almost four years to purchase 10 grams of marijuana from NIDA for research into the constituents of the vapor from marijuana vaporizers, a non-smoking drug delivery method that has already been used in one FDA-approved human study.
NIDA administers a contract with the University of Mississippi to grow the nation's only legal cannabis crop for medical and research purposes, including the Compassionate Investigational New Drug program. A Fast Company magazine article pointed out, "Based on the photographic evidence, NIDA's concoction of seeds, stems, and leaves more closely resembles dried cat brier than cannabis". An article in Mother Jones magazine describes their crop as "brown, stems-and-seeds-laden, low-potency pot—what's known on the streets as "schwag"" United States federal law currently registers cannabis as a Schedule I drug. Medical marijuana researchers typically prefer to use high-potency marijuana, but NIDA's National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse has been reluctant to provide cannabis with high THC levels, citing safety concerns:
Most clinical studies have been conducted using cannabis cigarettes with a potency of 2-4% THC. However, it is anticipated that there will be requests for cannabis cigarettes with a higher potency or with other mixes of cannabinoids. For example, NIDA has received a request for cigarettes with an 8% potency. The subcommittee notes that very little is known about the clinical pharmacology of this higher potency. Thus, while NIDA research has provided a large body of literature related to the clinical pharmacology of cannabis, research is still needed to establish the safety of new dosage forms and new formulations.
Speaking before the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse, Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project criticized NIDA for refusing to provide researcher Donald Abrams with marijuana for his studies, stating that "after nine months of delay, Dr. Leshner rejected Dr. Abrams' request for marijuana, on what we believe are political grounds that the FDA-approved protocol is inadequate.
Boston Globe 2006:
NIDA has drawn criticism for continuing to provide funding to George Ricaurte, who in 2002 conducted a study that was widely touted as proving that MDMA caused dopaminergic neurotoxicity in monkeys. His paper "Severe Dopaminergic Neurotoxicity in Primates After a Common Recreational Dose Regimen of MDMA ('Ecstasy')" in Science was later retracted after it became clear that the monkeys had in fact been injected not with MDMA, but with extremely high doses of methamphetamine. A FOIA request was subsequently filed by MAPS to find out more about the research and NIDA's involvement in it.
NIDA officials have edited the Wikipedia article about their organization to remove text and links critical of NIDA and add NIDA URLs and text from NIDA literature. The article history shows a single edit in late August 2006 and a number of edits during September 2006 by an anonymous editor with an IP address from within NIH. These edits have been reverted. In January 2007, NIDA spokeswoman Dorie Hightower verified that the editing was done by NIDA officials, and said it was done "to reflect the science." From this we see how NIDA feels about their program. LIES AND SLANDER!