Scientific opportunity and public health responsibility have no borders for NIDA, the world's largest supporter of research on drug abuse and its health and social consequences. Through its International Program (IP), NIDA strengthens research networks outside the United States—creating opportunities for global research collaboration, training, and scientific exchange.
International research and training have been a part of NIDA's mission since its inception in 1974. At that time, the IP primarily focused on information exchange. But its scope has grown over the decades; today the program has developed formal relationships with drug abuse research institutions in four countries and programs that reach scores of scientists and international organizations in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
Dr. Steven Gust, a specialist in psychology and pharmacology, leads the program. He directs and coordinates NIDA's efforts to foster collaborative international research involving other U.S. Government agencies, foreign governments and institutions, and nongovernmental organizations. Working with Dr. Gust, Ms. Dale Weiss, a program analyst, manages the IP's Web-based training and scientific exchange initiatives, bringing low-cost training and science-based information to drug abuse researchers and public health workers worldwide. IP staff assist NIDA scientists with research-related international travel, identify regional experts in particular subjects, and determine how U.S. investigators might connect with international partners.
"Fostering addiction research networks in strategic regions is our primary approach to tackling the international challenges of drug abuse and its related health consequences. Ultimately, helping regions build strong addiction research infrastructure leads to self-sustaining scientific networks that generate knowledge on the causes, prevention, and treatment of drug abuse—an investment that benefits the global community," says Dr. Gust.
For instance, when NIDA's Division of Basic Neuroscience and Behavioral Research identified a need to stimulate international collaborative research on inhalant abuse, the IP worked with the division to organize a scientific conference with interested Canadian and Mexican organizations. To perpetuate the relationships and extend the progress made there, the IP is building an online platform with virtual meeting capabilities, application sharing, and a discussion forum to help the participants advance inhalant abuse research. The IP also works with the Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research (DESPR) to help addiction researchers in other countries improve the quality of regional data on drug abuse. Using existing NIDA programs as models, DESPR and the IP have facilitated collaboration among epidemiologists, particularly in Southeast Asia and Latin America, through meetings and training activities.
The IP staff fulfill NIDA's international mission through activities that:
Strengthen Global Research Infrastructure
In March 2006, NIDA launched its Latin American Initiative. The IP partnered with the six member nations of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's Regional Central American Substance Abuse Treatment Network—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama—to establish a clinical research infrastructure and identify areas of focus for science and training. The IP also partnered with the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission at the Organization of American States to plan a network to monitor regional drug abuse patterns at the community level and provide management training for the Latin American scientists who will lead the network. By working closely with international organizations already active in the region, NIDA ensures that its activities complement ongoing efforts.
Facilitate Professional Development
Since 1990, NIDA has supported 60 drug abuse professionals from 33 nations through Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowships. The fellowships bring mid-career professionals from other countries to U.S. universities for a year of academic coursework and participation in research with NIDA-funded investigators. NIDA's INVEST Drug Abuse Research Fellowships, another program to build research capacity, has provided rigorous postdoctoral training for scientists from 26 nations since its inception in 1993. Traveling fellowship awards provide for brief research visits between international and U.S.- based NIDA grantees and enable international scientists to attend key meetings on drug abuse research.
Support Research and Collaboration
The Program supports international research on the causes, prevention, and treatment of drug abuse and addiction. Formal agreements with research institutes in Mexico, the Netherlands, Russia, and Spain ensure ongoing collaboration. For example, NIDA and the Dutch Addiction Program jointly fund several ongoing collaborations between researchers in the United States and the Netherlands. In one project, a U.S. team led by Dr. John Lochman of the University of Alabama developed and successfully tested an intervention to reduce the chances that children with disruptive behaviors will become substance abusers in adolescence. Working with partners in the Netherlands, the researchers subsequently demonstrated that the intervention could be successfully adapted to Dutch culture. Another U.S.-Dutch collaborative project used imaging techniques to examine the effects of adolescent marijuana abuse on brain development and decision-making.
International collaboration is vital to efforts to stem the global spread of drug-related HIV. NIDA relies on the scientific relationships fostered by the IP to facilitate collaborations with international partners in about 20 countries, develop research networks, and tailor the studies to local needs and conditions. Priority goes to projects in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central and Southeast Asia, where a high percentage of HIV infections result from injection drug use or sexual liaisons with injection drug users.NIDA-Supported International Researchers Share Knowledge: At the 2007 NIDA International Forum in Quebec City, Canada, Dr. Paulo Cunha of Hospital Israelite Albert Einstein in Brazil describes his research on the effects of neurocognitive deficits on treatment retention to Dr. Nancy Phaswana Mafuya of the South African Human Sciences Research Council.
The IP cosponsors scientific meetings with partner countries and international organizations, providing a forum in which drug abuse professionals can exchange information and initiate collaboration. Via its Web site, international.drugabuse.gov, the IP describes program initiatives and resources, findings, and funding opportunities.
Ms. Weiss oversees the initiatives that deliver relatively low-cost training and education programs to a diverse international audience—physicians and other medical professionals, scientists, community-based organizers, policymakers, and public health officials.
One such training tool, the Methadone Research Web Guide, reviews research findings on the effectiveness of methadone maintenance to treat opiate addiction and provides science-based information about the public health benefits of the medication. Another online resource, created by the International Society of Addiction Journal Editors with support from the IP, provides addiction researchers with guidance on publishing research, including information on preparing manuscripts, identifying appropriate target journals, and the submission, acceptance, and revision processes (www.parint.org). The IP is now developing a Web space where international collaborators can work together in real time by using shared software and databases.
Looking to the future, Dr. Gust says IP priorities will include drug abuse treatment as a way to reduce HIV transmission; adolescent smoking and prenatal tobacco exposure; methamphetamine abuse; inhalant abuse; and driving under the influence of drugs. NIDA can best address these priorities and respond quickly to emerging problems, Dr. Gust says, through its development and support of networks that train international investigators and health professionals in the science of addiction and by facilitating their collaboration with U.S.-based researchers.