Number 37, August 2011

NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D.; Carlo Giovanardi, Undersecretary for the Family, Drugs and Civil Service, Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Italy; and Giovanni Serpelloni, M.D., Department for Anti-drug Policies (DAP), Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Italy, agreed July 25, 2011, to foster mutually beneficial research and research training to improve the diagnosis and treatment of drug abuse and addiction.

The memorandum of understanding cited three research areas of particular interest for the two agencies:

  • Develop new treatment medications.
  • Improve early detection, screening, brief interventions, and referral to treatment (SBIRT), particularly among adolescents and young adults.
  • Increase the number of HIV-infected drug users who seek treatment for HIV infection and addiction (the “seek, test, treat, and retain” strategy).

The agreement establishes a binational working group to coordinate future collaborative activities. Priorities include partnerships between the NIDA Clinical Trials Network (CTN) and DAP, as well as cross-national training activities such as:

  • Short-term visits by Italian scientists to NIDA-supported research labs and visits by U.S. scientists to Italy.
  • Participation by U.S. scientists in Italian training programs such as the National School on Addiction at the Scuola Superiore di Formazione della Pubblica Amministrazione in Rome.
  • Improving medical education following the NIDA Centers of Excellence for Physician Education model.
Dr. Volkow, Undersecretary Giovanardi, and Dr. Serpelloni (left to right) sign the memorandum of understanding.

Dr. Volkow, Undersecretary Giovanardi, and Dr. Serpelloni (left to right) sign the memorandum of understanding.

NIDA staff serving on the binational working committee include Dr. Volkow, Betty Tai, Ph.D., CTN, and Antonello Bonci, M.D., Intramural Research Program.

The NIDA-DAP agreement follows a July 11, 2011, agreement between the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the Italian Ministry for Family, Drugs and Civil Service to provide a foundation for increased collaboration, cooperation, and partnership between the two nations in the fields of addiction research, clinical best practices, and drug policies. The ONDCP agreement specifically called for increased cooperation between U.S. and Italian public health research institutes and clinical centers on prevention, early intervention, treatment, rehabilitation, recovery, and reintegration of drug abusers.

A new fellowship program will enable talented Mexican postdoctoral scientists to devote 12 months to drug abuse prevention research in the United States.

NIDA and the Mexican National Institute of Psychiatry Ramón de la Fuente Muñiz (NIP), along with the Mexican National Commission Against Addictions (CONADIC) and the Society for Prevention Research, have established the United States–Mexico Drug Abuse Prevention Research Fellowship.

Modeled after the successful NIDA INVEST Drug Abuse Research Fellowship, the Prevention Research Fellowship will provide Mexican postdoctoral scientists with 12 months of research training with a NIDA grantee in the United States, along with professional development and grant-writing activities. Fellows may investigate any area of drug abuse prevention research, such as prevention intervention research, prevention services research, prevention methodology, or drug abuse prevention as HIV/AIDS prevention. The NIDA International Program will administer the Prevention Research Fellowship with assistance from the Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research.

The fellowship is part of the ongoing collaborative efforts between the United States and Mexico to reduce initiation and use of drugs, the progression from abuse to dependence, and drug abuse-related HIV transmission. NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D., and NIP Director María Elena Medina-Mora Icaza, Ph.D., signed the memorandum of understanding creating the fellowship on June 23, 2011, during the 9th Binational U.S.–Mexico Demand Reduction Conference in Mexico.

Click here for more details and application information.

NIDA International Program Director Steven W. Gust, Ph.D., received the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) J. Michael Morrison Award for outstanding contributions in the area of scientific administration related to drugs of abuse.

Steve W. Gust, Anna Rose Childress, Robert L. Balster

NIDA International Program Director Steve W. Gust (center) with Center on Problems of Drug Dependence President Anna Rose Childress, University of Pennsylvania, and Robert L. Balster, Virginia Commonwealth University, who nominated Dr. Gust for the award.

The award was presented June 19, 2011, at the Plenary Session of the CPDD Annual Scientific Meeting held in Hollywood, Florida. Dr. Gust was cited for his service as NIDA International Program director, which he has led since 1999, particularly his expansion of research funding opportunities, fellowship and other capacity-building programs, and scientific exchange activities such as the NIDA International Forum. The award also noted Dr. Gust’s service as acting director of the NIDA Office on AIDS, from 1994 to 1998, where he brought national and international attention to the connections between drug use and AIDS, and the Office was responsible for more than a third of the NIDA budget. Dr. Gust first joined NIDA in 1986 and also has served in the Clinical and Behavioral Pharmacology Branch and the Division of Applied Research.


“Find good partners, start small, and take advantage of every research training and funding opportunity available.” That was the theme of presenters at the 16th Annual NIDA International Forum, which featured reports on U.S. initiatives to improve evidence-based drug treatment, research training, and policy implementation around the world.

NIDA International Program Director Steven W. Gust, Ph.D., chaired the meeting, which was held June 17–20, 2011, in Hollywood, Florida, as a satellite to the Annual Scientific Meeting of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD). More than 255 participants from 51 countries participated in the plenary session, workshops, and networking activities.

A joint CPDD/NIDA International Forum Poster Session featured presentations by 146 U.S. and international researchers. Plenary session speakers included NIDA Deputy Director David Shurtleff, Ph.D., as well as James E. Herrington, Ph.D., M.P.H, Fogarty International Center, and Richard H. Needle, Ph.D., M.P.H., U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. A panel of NIDA grantees organized by Division of Pharmacotherapies and Medical Consequences of Drug Abuse Acting Deputy Director Ivan Montoya, M.D., M.P.H., described recent progress in developing pharmacotherapies to treat addiction.

Another panel of NIDA grantees offered advice on building international research collaborations that could compete for funding, and a group of former International Program fellows reviewed the challenges of collecting and publishing reliable youth risk behavior data in Muslim-majority countries. NIDA staff chaired sessions where international scientists presented research reports on basic science, HIV/AIDS, epidemiology, prevention, and treatment.

See more information about the Forum, including the full Executive Summary, Program Book, photos, and a list of presentations (available upon request).

Researchers from Russia and South Africa were selected as the 2011 WHO/NIDA/CPDD International Traveling Fellows. NIDA partners with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) to provide support for a 1-week research visit with a NIDA grantee and participation in the NIDA International Forum and the CPDD Annual Scientific Meeting.

The 2011 International Traveling Fellows are:

  • Elena Blokhina, M.D., Ph.D., is a research scientist at Pavlov State Medical University in St. Petersburg, Russia, and an experienced international researcher in the area of substance dependence and HIV prevention. She currently is the project coordinator for a NIDA binational grant to the University of Pennsylvania and Pavlov State Medical University to compare an implantable formulation of naltrexone vs. 50 mg/day oral naltrexone for improving antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence and treatment outcomes in HIV-positive opioid-addicted patients who are beginning their first episode of ART. She is also a project coordinator for a binational grant to Boston University and Pavlov from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) that focuses on HIV prevention among Russian drinkers, and has been a valuable member of the research teams for several NIDA clinical trials supported in Russia. She spent her research visit with Jeffery H. Samet, M.D., Boston University School of Medicine, to complete a scientific article on HIV prevention among polysubstance abusers and discuss the development of additional collaborative research projects on drug abuse and HIV prevention, including the “seek, test, treat, and retrain” protocol.
  • Tara Carney, M.A., is the senior scientist at the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Unit of the South African Medical Research Council and an experienced international researcher in the area of alcohol and drug intervention projects. Ms. Carney focuses on the development and testing of brief interventions for substance use, HIV risk behaviors, and delinquent behaviors among adolescents and has collaborated with grantees from NIDA, NIAAA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She spent her research visit with Dr. Ken Winters at the University of Minnesota, to begin adapting for use in South Africa the evidence-based early intervention program that he has developed to reduce substance use and associated harms among adolescents.

The NIDA International Program held a series of webinars this spring to help participants of the 16th NIDA International Forum prepare their poster and oral presentations.

  • Powerful Poster Presentations used draft posters from 2011 Forum participants to demonstrate how a well-designed scientific poster can help researchers communicate effectively with colleagues by selecting information that attracts viewers to the poster, organizing the contents for maximum clarity, using text and illustrations to enhance the poster, and making professional connections at the poster session.
  • Scientifically Speaking: How To Prepare an Effective Presentation helped oral presenters describe complex concepts and data concisely, structure the presentation for maximum clarity, use images effectively, prepare titles that attract attention, and begin and end the presentation smoothly.

The webinars were recorded and are available on the Professional Development Webinars section of the NIDA International Program Web site.

Abstracts will soon be accepted for the 5th Annual NIDA International Poster Session at the Society for Prevention Research (SPR) 20th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, May 29–June 1, 2012.

NIDA’s International Program and Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research will host the poster session to highlight international drug abuse-related prevention research, including HIV/AIDS prevention research in drug-using populations. Abstract submissions will undergo the same peer review process as other poster submissions for SPR.

A limited number of travel awards will be available to those whose abstracts are accepted through the peer review process. The travel award will provide partial support to cover costs associated with attendance at the 2012 SPR meeting. The awards are sponsored by NIDA and the National Cancer Institute.

The abstract submission site opens September 7, and the deadline is October 26, 2011. Look for more information at the SPR Web site.

Locating potential research partners just got easier. A new Collaborative Matching Service (CMS) allows drug abuse and addiction scientists, policymakers, and providers to identify people, projects, and organizations with common research interests.

CMS is a searchable database within the NIDA International Virtual Collaboratory (NIVC), which helps members exchange research data and ideas and participate in creating online communities and working groups. Members of the Virtual Collaboratory can search CMS for people, organizations, projects, and job opportunities using a combination of criteria, including geographic region, individual country, or keywords. NIVC members are urged to update their profile information to reflect their current locations and research projects.

As part of the ongoing binational collaboration on drug abuse research between NIDA and the Spanish Plan Nacional sobre Drogas (PNSD), Spanish researchers may apply for funding from PNSD to support brief research visits with NIDA-funded investigators in the United States.

The Spanish researchers will learn new research methods, promote awareness of Spain’s academic and scientific research environment, advance collaboration between Spanish and U.S. institutions and researchers, and increase the qualifications and visibility of Spanish scientists as potential research partners. Interested Spanish researchers should contact Dr. José Oñorbe de Torre at PNSD for more information. NIDA and PNSD first signed agreements to cooperate on drug abuse and addiction research in 1997.

Recent awards through the NIDA International Program Announcements (PA) on International Research Collaboration on Drug Abuse and Addiction Research will support four research teams investigating drug-related HIV:

  • Julia Dickson-Gomez, Ph.D., Medical College of Wisconsin, and Mauricio Gaborit, Ph.D., Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas, El Salvador, will test a multilevel community-based intervention to increase HIV testing and reduce sexual risk behaviors among crack users in San Salvador. Social network HIV testing will be conducted in four low-income community clinics in the region, and peer leaders will be trained to recruit and lead the intervention among 400 crack users. The researchers will use both quantitative and qualitative methods to assess the impact of the intervention on community capacity, the reach and intensity of the intervention, and population-level behavior changes among crack users. The team also will conduct organizational and community-level assessments to assess the translation, scale up, and sustainability of this evidence-based intervention in a real-world setting. The award is a competitive renewal of the team’s previous R01 grant.
  • Biological and behavioral data from nine longitudinal, prospective studies of injection drug users (IDUs) will be merged with data on incident HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection outcomes under a new international collaboration led by Kimberly Page, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco. The merged data pool includes 4,091 IDUs who have been followed for a collective 9,016 person-years of observation, 859 incident HCV infections with longitudinal follow-up, and 575 HIV infections, offering the statistical power needed to draw conclusions about temporal trends in HIV and HCV incidence, examine HCV incidence by HIV status and sexual behavior, estimate rates and determinants of HCV viral clearance and reinfection, examine the effects of HCV infection disclosure on risk behaviors, and evaluate outcomes related to clinical treatment of acute HCV in IDUs. Researchers from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and United States will use the new R01 award to conduct new, secondary analyses on the merged data, and they have committed to long-term cooperation in epidemiology, behavioral studies, clinical research, and laboratory science.
  • Steffanie Strathdee, Ph.D., University of California, San Diego, and María Remeidos Lozada Romero, M.D., M.P.H., ProCOMUSIDA, Mexico, will conduct a longitudinal, mixed-methods study to address the impact of Mexican drug policy reform on the HIV risk and protective factors among IDUs in Tijuana. In 2010, a Mexican law decriminalized possession of small amounts of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana for personal use. The law requires Mexican police to track the number of times an individual is apprehended in possession of these decriminalized amounts of controlled substances; after three apprehensions, the individual must enter drug treatment to avoid incarceration. The research team will track outcomes among 750 IDUs over 6 years to assess: (1) changes in knowledge, attitudes, and experiences about the new law and the impact of those changes on drug-using behaviors and treatment readiness; (2) trends in drug use behaviors; (3) health risks and protective behaviors; (4) incidence and experiences with voluntary and involuntary drug treatment, including the proportion of drug users choosing treatment over incarceration; and (5) law enforcement practices and interactions with IDUs. The award is a competitive renewal of the team’s previous R01 grant.
  • Under an R21 small grant award, Avelardo Valdez, Ph.D., University of Houston, and Guillermina Natera Rey, Ph.D., Instituto Nacional de Psiquiatría Ramon de la Fuente Muñiz, Mexico, will conduct a social epidemiological study on the emergence and spread of crack in the Federal District of Mexico. The team will interview 150 adults who self-report smoking crack to explore the processes associated with the initiation and rapid spread of crack use and related high-risk sexual and drug-using behaviors. Results of that analysis will contribute to the development of a theory-based intervention for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in this population.

Find out more about the International Research Collaboration on Drug Abuse and Addiction Research Program Announcements.

Continuing the uniquely successful binational agreement between NIDA and the Netherlands, three new research teams have received funding to conduct studies on prevention and treatment interventions. NIDA funds the U.S. researchers; the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) supports the Dutch scientists. The newly funded teams are:

  • Communities That Care (CTC): Sabrina Oesterle, Ph.D., University of Washington, and Harrie B. Jonkman, Ph.D., Verwey-Jonkers Institute, Netherlands, will use randomized controlled trials to compare the implementation of the CTC prevention program in 24 U.S. locations and 10 Dutch locations. CTC addresses risk and protective factors for drug abuse and delinquency at the community level and mobilizes communities to implement evidence-based prevention interventions that target those factors. In addition to measuring the influence of CTC measures on youth outcomes, the researchers will assess whether implementation of CTC leads to changes in the local community coalitions and prevention systems. More broadly, the team also will examine the contextual sensitivity and generalizability of CTC and assess whether differences in national policies, cultures, and contexts result in differences in implementation.
  • Smoking Cessation: Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin, Ph.D., Yale University, and Reinout Wiers, Ph.D., University of Amsterdam, will combine basic science findings on impulsivity and state-of-the science behavioral treatment research to study whether approach avoidance training in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy is effective in helping adolescent smokers stop using tobacco. The team will confirm whether adolescent smokers and nonsmokers differ in approach-avoid tendencies toward tobacco stimuli, and whether smokers can be trained to avoid approaching tobacco stimuli. If the new work shows promise in adolescents, Yale staff will consider adapting it to their Computer-Based Training for Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT4CBT) program.
  • Relapse Prevention: Daniel Langleban, M.D., University of Pennsylvania, and Wim van den Brink, M.D., Ph.D., University of Amsterdam, will conduct a pharmacological magnetic resonance imaging study of the effects of 3 months of depot naltrexone treatment on the brain response to visual drug cues in 40 opiate-dependent subjects. The team will attempt to validate pilot observations of earlier studies and identify the clinical value of using proposed neurophysiological correlates in future treatment assessments.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced earlier this summer that the Federal Government is contemplating various ways to enhance the regulations governing research on human subjects.

Before making changes to the regulations, the Government is seeking the public’s input on an array of issues related to the ethics, safety, and oversight of human research. The changes under consideration are in an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), “Human Subjects Research Protections: Enhancing Protections for Research Subjects and Reducing Burden, Delay, and Ambiguity for Investigators,” published in the July 25, 2011, Federal Register.

International investigators supported by the U.S. Federal Government may be affected by the proposed changes as they relate to Institutional Review Board assessments of multisite studies, informed consent, and clarifying and harmonizing regulatory requirements and agency guidance, among other issues.

In a keynote address at the Partnering for Global Health Forum this past June, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., emphasized the importance of collaborative global health research to NIH and the United States.

Answering the question of why NIH should support global research, Dr. Collins noted, “What we learn in carrying out research in global health benefits our own citizens as well.” Quoting Julio Frenk, M.D., Ph.D., Dean, Harvard School of Public Health, Dr. Collins emphasized “Global is not the opposite of domestic.”

Dr. Collins talked about the advances in new technologies that are paving the way for greater global achievements, particularly in rural and remote areas. He described cell phones that can alert practitioners to whether patients are following their treatment regimens or can transmit images miles away for help with diagnosis and treatment.

Dr. Collins also spoke about the need for networks that can empower the capacity of developing countries to play a larger role in research. “The idea that the research can be done by individuals in a country with the resources and the skills to do so is a vastly better one than having this kind of capability only exercised on behalf of those countries by others outside,” said Dr. Collins. As an example, he introduced the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) Initiative begun by NIH in partnership with Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom. The project aims to create and support the development of expertise among African scientists and to establish networks of African investigators to facilitate the study of genomics and environmental determinants of common diseases with the goal of improving the health of African populations.

Listen to Dr. Collins’ full remarks at the Partnering for Global Health Forum. Also listen to a podcast interview with Dr. Collins by Senior Managing Editor Angie Drakulich, as part of the 2011 BIO Convention and BioVentures for Global Health Partnering for Global Health Forum. Dr. Collins discusses NIH’s efforts to improve global health care, including an update on the human genome project, a focus on infectious and rare diseases in the developing world, and research and development grants for small business.

Sponsored by BIO and BioVentures for Global Health, the meeting connected leaders from global health, biopharmaceutical, academic, and donor communities, and featured presentations from global health innovators as well as public and private funders supporting global health research and development.

Ten U.S. medical institutions have just introduced the first accredited residency programs in addiction medicine. Doctors who have completed medical school and a primary residency will be able to spend a year studying the relationship between addiction, heredity, and brain chemistry.

The new accreditation is the result of work by the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM), which ensures that addiction medicine physicians have the knowledge and skills to prevent, recognize, and treat addiction. Founded in 2007, ABAM certifies addiction medicine physicians across a range of medical specialties. The board sets standards for physician education, assesses physicians’ knowledge, and requires and tracks life-long education. ABAM expects to accredit an additional 10 to 15 residency programs this year.

Each institution has developed its own curriculum, although all residents, regardless of their institution, will learn to recognize and diagnose substance abuse, conduct brief interventions that spell out the treatment options, and prescribe the proper medications. The doctors also will be expected to understand the legal and practical implications of substance abuse. For more information about the new U.S. addiction residency programs, visit ABAM.

Although ABAM certification is open only to licensed physicians from the United States, U.S. Territories, and Canada, physicians from other countries may become certified as addiction specialists through the International Society of Addiction Medicine (ISAM) exam, which is open to graduates of any medical school recognized by the World Health Organization. For more information about the ISAM exam, visit the ISAM Web site.

The International AIDS Society (IAS) and NIDA have awarded postdoctoral fellowships to scientists from China and Indonesia. IAS and NIDA cosponsor the fellowships, which provide 18 months of training with an expert in drug abuse-related HIV to advance scientific understanding of the linkages between drug use and HIV while fostering multinational research. The 2011 fellows are:

  • Former NIDA INVEST Fellow Huaihui Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., a psychiatrist at the Shanghai Yangpu District Mental Health Center, China, will carry out a brief assessment and a modular, education-based intervention for methadone maintenance treatment patients who are at risk of HIV infection in Shanghai, China. Her INVEST fellowship mentor, Richard S. Schottenfeld, M.D., Yale University School of Medicine, also will serve as her mentor for the IAS/NIDA Fellowship.
  • Working with Scott Burris, J.D., Temple University School of Law, Jinmei Meng, Ph.D., of China will work on HIV, drug use, and the law in China, investigating the penalization of drug use and HIV risks of injecting drug users.
  • Iko Safika, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the South East Asia Infectious Disease Clinical Research Unit in Indonesia, will study depression, drug use, and high-risk sexual behaviors among men who have sex with men and transgendered individuals in Jakarta, Indonesia. Timothy Johnson, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), will be her mentor. Dr. Safika received her doctorate from UIC as a Fogarty International Center AIDS International Training and Research Program trainee.
IAS-NIDA Fellowship Award recipients, left to right: NIDA Director Nora Volkow, Huaihui Zhang, Iko Safika, IAS President Elly Katabira, Jinmei Meng, Scott Burris, and Richard Schottenfeld. ©IAS/Marcus Rose/Worker's Photos

IAS-NIDA Fellowship Award recipients, left to right: NIDA Director Nora Volkow, Huaihui Zhang, Iko Safika, IAS President Elly Katabira, Jinmei Meng, Scott Burris, and Richard Schottenfeld. ©IAS/Marcus Rose/Worker's Photos

Recently, two INVEST/Clinical Trials Network (CTN) Drug Abuse Research Fellows completed their 12-month postdoctoral fellowships, having acquired significant experience in conducting clinical trials and genotyping, respectively:

  • Suzanne Nielsen, Ph.D., Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, Australia, spent her INVEST/CTN Fellowship with Walter L. Ling, M.D., University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), conducting secondary data analysis examining differences between prescription opioid and heroin users in two buprenorphine treatment studies, and supporting the multisite clinical trial “Cocaine Use Reduction With Buprenorphine” (CURB) study (CTN-0048). CURB is a complex protocol involving multiple medications designed to reduce cocaine use in cocaine-dependent individuals with a history of opioid abuse or dependence. Dr. Nielsen wrote the operations manual for the study, developed training materials, and helped run the national training for the study. She has completed two papers, presented her work at several scientific meetings, and served as guest editor of a special issue of Drug and Alcohol Review on pharmaceuticals. She will spend a second year at UCLA before returning to Australia to develop a network of clinical treatment providers in Australia, where multisite studies examining treatments for substance dependence do not currently exist. Dr. Nielsen also was featured in the ISAP News (July 2011, Volume 9, Issue 2), published by the University of California, Los Angeles Integrated Substance Abuse Programs.
  • Meera Vaswani, Ph.D., All India Institute of Medical Sciences, spent her INVEST/CTN Fellowship with Wade Berrettini, M.D., Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, identifying variants in known and novel mu-opioid receptor interacting proteins, genotyping eight genes for both opioid and cocaine addiction. Dr. Vaswani presented the work at several scientific meetings and completed two papers.

The NIDA International Program stays abreast of funding opportunities, upcoming deadlines for fellowship and grant applications, and meetings of interest to the international addiction and drug abuse research community.

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Fogarty International Center Program Announcements

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Program Announcement