A group of outside advisers to National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins has recommended merging the two NIH institutes that study alcoholism and drug abuse. Although Collins has expressed interest in the idea, Congress is also likely to play an important role in any decision.
It may seem obvious to combine institutes that study addiction. And during the 1970s and '80s the research and mental health programs were together as part of another federal health agency. But in general, Congress has been creating institutes at NIH, not consolidating them. There are now 27 focusing on everything from cancer to biomedical imaging.
Leaders such as former NIH Director Harold Varmus (now National Cancer Institute chief) have complained that the sprawl hobbles NIH's ability to respond to new science. In response, Congress asked NIH in 2006 to create a Scientific Management Review Board that would look at ways to reorganize. The board began by examining a proposal to combine the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).