NIDA Racial Equity Initiative Action Plan

Summary

In July 2020, NIDA Director Nora Volkow established NIDA’s Racial Equity Initiative to organize the Institute’s efforts with the goal of addressing the impact of structural racism on addiction science and to take action to promote racial equity in NIDA’s workplace, workforce, and research portfolio. Workgroups of committed volunteers from across NIDA Headquarters (HQ) and the Intramural Research Program (IRP) were established to take action in each of these three areas. A Town Hall was convened to launch the effort, which was followed by an extensive series of listening sessions held by each workgroup, a NIDA workplace climate survey, and a scientific meeting focused on enhancing health disparities research related to substance use and addiction. These opportunities to listen to community input have shaped ongoing activities and have informed this Action Plan toward the goal of racial equity. NIDA strongly supports the NIH-wide UNITE Initiative to end structural racism, and the complementary activities of NIDA’s Racial Equity Initiative are intended to facilitate impactful change in NIDA’s specific mission space.

Workplace Workgroup

Mission

The NIDA Racial Equity Initiative Workplace Workgroup recognizes the insidious effects of racism and unconscious bias on staff, the NIDA workplace, and in our society. Through awareness of our current culture, frank discussions, and implementation of subsequent transformative projects and initiatives, the Workplace Workgroup seeks to foster an environment in which harassment and racism are not tolerated and promote a culture of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Approach

  • To achieve the mission, NIDA undertook initial activities to assess the NIDA Workplace, identify actions to promote racial equity among all staff, and implement those actions, including the following:
    • Developed an annual NIDA Climate Survey for all staff
    • Held four listening and discussion sessions with NIDA staff since summer 2020
    • Designed and provided training to educate NIDA staff on disparities and barriers
  • The short-term and long-term plans described here will be informed by ongoing reassessment, to ensure that action items are data-driven and continually improved.

Goals and Objectives

Goal 1. Implement regular communications to staff about NIDA’s commitment and efforts to promote racial justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, and respect in the workplace.

  • Objective 1.1. Develop short and long-term goals for how NIDA will address issues related to racial equity; develop guidance and improve the integration of all staff.
  • Objective 1.2. Develop and implement a positive statement about the type of environment NIDA is cultivating and its commitment to protect staff from retaliation.
  • Objective 1.3. Continue regular NIDA Town Hall meetings to increase transparency, trust, and communication. 
  • Objective 1.4. Enhance the onboarding experience to include information about NIDA’s REI; our core values related to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion and commitment to addressing racism or harassment in the NIDA workplace; and how to get involved.

Progress: NIDA’s commitment to the REI has been posted to the NIDA website at https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/racial-equity-initiative. NIDA Executive Officers met with every NIDA division and office to discuss our commitment to a respectful climate free of harassment and retaliation in spring/summer 2021, and Dr. Volkow has reiterated this commitment in her communication with staff. NIDA Town Hall meetings are conducted on a monthly basis, and a Town Hall on REI topics is planned to occur at least once per year. Actions to enhance the onboarding experience to inform new staff about NIDA’s REI and related resources are planned for fall 2021.

Goal 2. Engage staff to assess racial and ethnic justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion concerns in the workplace.

  • Objective 2.1. Conduct an annual survey to all staff to assess the NIDA climate. Share the results and use them to guide targeted Objective items. This work will be done via a contract to ensure independence of NIDA. and will require funding.
  • Objective 2.2. Hold listening sessions and discussion sessions, conduct focus groups, and implement other methods for feedback to help improve NIDA’s work environment and raise awareness.
  • Objective 2.3. Develop ways for staff/trainees to critique/provide feedback on supervisor’s/mentor's behaviors, attitudes, and perceived follow through on diversity and equity principles and programs.

Progress: A contract for external Equity Diversity and Inclusion consultant services has been awarded. These consultant services will facilitate NIDA’s engagement with staff to assess racial and ethnic justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion concerns in the workplace. The annual climate survey for NIDA staff is planned for fall 2021, and means for staff to provide feedback on supervisors’ alignment with diversity and equity principles will be developed in winter 2021. Several workplace listening sessions were held in summer/fall 2020; additional listening sessions and focus groups will be offered in 2021.

Goal 3. Provide training for NIDA staff to prevent all forms of harassment and promote racial equity, inclusion, and diversity.

  • Objective 3.1. Hold Bystander Training for NIDA supervisors and staff to help identify forms of harassment based on multiple identities; provide examples of how staff can be supportive of individuals experiencing harassment; and assist staff in responding to harassment they are witnessing either in the moment or later. 
  • Objective 3.2. Assess the availability of, and interest in, training opportunities for NIDA staff in the arena of reducing racial bias and improving inclusion and require training for all when it is critical to form the foundation for our climate and culture.
  • Objective 3.2. Provide training to NIDA leadership and other supervisors on promoting racial equity and supporting a diverse workforce.

Progress: Fourteen NIDA-specific Bystander Training sessions were offered in spring 2021, and more sessions will be offered later in the year. Additional trainings and assessments are planned for fall/winter 2021.

Goal 4. Foster a culture of respect and anti-harassment; commit to appropriate action on violations of our values, principles and policies.

  • Objective 4.1. Educate staff on how to report instances of racial bias or discrimination; on the process for inquiry into allegations; and on the array of consequences for unacceptable conduct.
  • Objective 4.2. Develop diversity appreciation activities and sponsor a series of discussions that focus on understanding different cultures. There are biases that occur within races, ethnicities, and cultures, as well as between them. A series of discussions in which one race, ethnicity, or culture is focused on could allow for greater sharing, understanding, and visibility.
  • Objective 4.3. Identify and incentivize inclusive, innovative, proactive behavior.

Progress: NIDA Executive Officers met with every NIDA division and office to discuss our commitment to a respectful climate free of harassment and retaliation in spring/summer 2021. Diversity appreciation activities and discussions, as well as the development of means to incentivize inclusive behavior, are planned for winter 2021/spring 2022. 

Goal 5. Promote diversity and inclusion specific to the needs of NIDA’s Intramural Research Program (IRP) and Headquarters staff.

  • Objective 5.1. Create a senior diversity and inclusion position within NIDA IRP to support Principal Investigators (PIs) and trainees.
  • Objective 5.2 Establish a NIDA-wide Diversity and Inclusion Officer
  • Objective 5.3. Develop an internal NIDA mentoring and championing program, open to all staff. Identify and address potential barriers to participation.
  • Objective 5.4. Disseminate to all staff NIDA hiring, promotion, and detail opportunities.
  • Objective 5.5. Assist supervisors with strategies to advertise NIDA vacancies to increase the diversity of the applicant pool.
  • Objective 5.6. Examine the NIDA workforce, positions, and pay with respect to racial and gender equity.

Progress: The NIDA-IRP Associate Director for Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Yeka Aponte, oversees our multi-component efforts regarding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. These programs currently include: Diversity and Outreach Committee (DOC); Diversity and Outreach Training Programs; Scientific Director’s Fellowship for Diversity in Research (SDFDR); Research Training for Underrepresented Populations; the Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Activities Committee (IDEA; a trainee-initiated committee); and the UMBC undergraduate pilot program launched by the NIDA REI Workforce working group in early FY21. A NIDA-wide Diversity and Inclusion Officer will be appointed following the receipt of guidance from NIH on proposed duties and seniority of the position, to ensure consistency across the Institutes and Centers. A workplace subgroup was formed in May 2021 to oversee the development of an internal NIDA mentoring program, with the goal of launching a pilot in fall 2021. Additional objectives in support of promoting diversity and inclusion specific to NIDA’s IRP are planned for fall 2021 through spring 2022.

Workforce Workgroup

Mission

The NIDA Racial Equity Initiative Scientific Workforce Diversity Workgroup seeks to increase racial and ethnic diversity, equity, and inclusivity within the addiction research community by identifying disparities and systemic barriers, engaging the community at all education and career levels, and implementing programs and funding opportunities to enhance, promote, and retain historically underrepresented groups (URG) in addiction science within the US.

Approach

  • In support of this mission, NIDA developed goals and objectives which were guided by the following activities:
    • Conducted over 10, one-hour internal listening sessions to solicit feedback
    • Ongoing external listening sessions
    • Reviewed literature and resources that center on the experiences and suggestions of people typically underrepresented or marginalized in science
  • These action plans will be continuously reviewed, reconsidered, and adjusted as we listen and learn more.

Goals and Objectives

Goal 1. Identify disparities, obstacles, and systemic barriers to pursuing careers in addiction science.

  • Objective 1.1. Conduct a career trajectory survey of former NIDA trainees, followed by further engagement with interested stakeholders to explore best practices to retain people from URGs in addiction research.

Progress: We have formed a Retention and Sustainability subgroup to research what are the barriers to sustaining a career in addiction research.

Goal 2. Increase awareness of addiction science as a career opportunity in K-12 education.

  • Objective 2.1. Leverage the partnerships associated with NIDA’s Drug and Alcohol Facts Week to connect NIDA scientists with K-12 schools.
  • Objective 2.2. Conduct live roundtables that highlight science and research as a career option, including participants from diverse demographics.
  • Objective 2.3. Create a volunteer group of addiction scientists–including graduate students, post-bacs, post-docs, PIs, and non-academic track positions–to provide outreach sessions and information on addiction career pathways with a focus on youth (grades K-12).
  • Objective 2.4. Develop an online database of NIDA career resources—including a career paths video of scientists in different careers at different stages—to be shared with traditionally URG that contains contact information for the volunteer group of addiction scientists (from Objective 2.3).

Progress: This year, we partnered with NIDA’s Communications team to create NIDA Scientist Virtual Q&A Videos, in which NIDA IRP junior scientists from diverse backgrounds and interests engaged in Q&A with young adults. These engaging videos have received 10,650 views, and since their release 14 weeks ago, they get an average of 28% more watch time over all NIDA YouTube Channel Videos. In addition, a CVS/Discovery Health Facebook live roundtable with IRP scientist Dr. Brenda Curtis exposed an estimated 15,960 students to careers in addiction science during its live broadcast, and has continued reach as it remains posted on the Dose of Knowledge website. Additional objectives to connect youth, particularly youth from URG, with addiction scientists and career resources, are ongoing.

Goal 3. Increase access to and engagement with NIDA across the career pipeline to improve URG diversity in the addiction science workforce.

  • Objective 3.1. Increase outreach and develop relationships and partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), and minority affairs offices across U.S. institutions.
  • Objective 3.2. Amass large dissemination lists to be used for various outreach efforts (e.g., RFI, workshops, networking).
  • Objective 3.3. Develop partnerships with scientific societies to learn about their diversity-focused activities; disseminate information about opportunities using our comprehensive lists; and support efforts to further diversify their membership and meetings.

Progress: NIDA established an IRP Undergraduate Research Internship pilot, and the first cohort of 6 students from an MSI completed their internship this summer. Cohort 2 from the same MSI will begin in fall 2021, and cohort 3 is planned for summer/fall 2022 and will expand to include students from other local HBCUs and MSIs. Work is also underway to develop a workshop series at HBCUs to provide in-depth information about the NIH. Further, to promote outreach efforts, a dissemination list was created, which continues to be updated and used in a variety of ways. Notably, the list has been used to help promote responses to NIH’s UNITE initiative (established to address structural racism within the biomedical research enterprise) and to disseminate NIDA-related information. The Workforce Workgroup has also partnered with several scientific societies (including: American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, American Psychological Association, and the College on Problems in Drug Dependence) to discuss collaborative efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in these societies, in scientific meetings, and in SUD science as a whole. Finally, the Workforce Workgroup continues to facilitate listening sessions with faculty from HBCUs and MSIs to illuminate areas in which NIDA support could help promote addiction science at these institutions.

Goal 4. Implement mentorship, networking programs and funding opportunities to enhance, promote, and retain historically underrepresented groups (URG) in addiction science.

  • Objective 4.1. Create a mentoring network within the addiction science workforce (see Objective 2.3).
  • Objective 4.2. Increase recognition and promotion of URGs (e.g., travel awards, website spotlights, trainee spotlights, speaker invitations).
  • Objective 4.3. Expand the NIDA Diversity Scholars Network (NDSN) to include more scholars.
  • Objective 4.4. Plan grant writing workshops for HBCUs and MSIs.
  • Objective 4.5. Create and expand existing internship programs with HBCUs and MSIs.
  • Objective 4.6. Create and implement a pilot internship program with University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), a Minority Serving Institution (MSI), for six STEM undergrads from diversity initiatives. This program will ultimately be expanded to other sites beyond the NIDA IRP.

Progress: Towards these goals, we have already increased funding, increased the number of NIDA Summer Interns by over 20, and strengthened the mentoring provided to our summer interns. For example, we added a weekly course series on graduate school, interactions with current scientists, and courses on different topics of addiction research. Additionally, the second cohort of students from UMBC are participating in the IRP Undergraduate Research Internship program for the 2020-2021 academic year and the third cohort will include students from other HBCUs and MSIs. Further, the NDSN, which aims to enhance the funding success of underrepresented early-stage investigators, accepted 14 scholars in 2021. Future grant applications for this program will be monitored and tracked. We are also developing a grant workshop series facilitated by Xavier University for investigators from HBCUs across the country to provide an inside view of the NIH grant and review process and to address topics of interest to the investigators. To increase recognition of URG scientists, we highlight trainees in our bimonthly newsletter. Additionally, we invite past scholars from the NDSN meeting to share their perspective on how to be a successful scientist. 

Goal 5. Implement policy changes that address barriers, inequities, and Anti-Black systemic racism to create institutional-level change in recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce in addiction science. 

  • Objective 5.1. Work with the Workplace Workgroup to implement training efforts among NIDA staff, and with professional societies to promote training within their membership.
  • Objective 5.2. Review and participate in the NIH Request for Information (RFI), Inviting Comments and Suggestions to Advance and Strengthen Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Biomedical Research Workforce and Advance Health Disparities and Health Equity Research (NOT-OD-21-066).
  • Objective 5.3. Review and develop action items based on career trajectory survey results.
  • Objective 5.4. Add requirements and review criteria to FOAs, thereby holding PIs and institutions accountable for their diversity and inclusivity training within their local environment.
  • Objective 5.5. Reform grant and review policies for NIH applications (e.g., addressing diversity in applications, addressing implicit bias in reviews).
  • Objective 5.6. Improve, expand, or develop NIDA programs and collaborations with institutions.
  • Objective 5.7. Reinstate external listening sessions with universities. Solicit input from institutions and external stakeholders on future action of NIDA Workforce diversity effort and initiatives. 

Progress: We are analyzing feedback received from the RFI (NOT-OD-21-066) on approaches to advance racial equity, diversity, and inclusion within the biomedical research workforce to inform the ongoing efforts of NIDA’S REI. We included a new requirement in the FOA ‘Providing Research Education Experiences to Enhance Diversity in the Next Generation of Substance Use and Addiction Scientists (R25 Clinical Trials Not Allowed)’ PAR-20-236 to include an ‘Enhancing Biomedical Workforce Statement’ and a ‘Recruitment Plan to Enhance Diversity’ in the Additional Review Consideration criteria which are all discussed before a grant is given a final score. This is the first time that this type of diversity recruitment language has been added as scorable review criteria. We will review the outcomes and impact of this new language and adjust future actions accordingly.

As progress towards expanding NIDA’s programs and collaborations, the IRP’s Scientific Director’s Fellowship for Diversity in Research (SDFDR) program has received additional funding from the NIDA Director to increase the number of postdoctoral fellowships that can be supported by the program. The NIDA Extramural outreach programs have increased funding for the NIDA Summer Research Internship Program, the NIDA Diversity Supplement Program, Research Centers in Minority Institutions (RCMI) program supplements in substance use and addiction research for MSIs, and increased scholars in the NDSN program. Additionally, the Office of Diversity and Health Disparities (ODHD) staff is making regular presentations to R25 programs focused on diversity outreach and recruitment. Further, we have held listening sessions with 4 different Scientific Societies and will continue these discussions to identify additional strategies to recruit and retain a diverse workforce.

Research Gaps and Opportunities Workgroup

Mission

The NIDA Research Gaps and Opportunities (RGO) Workgroup will realize NIDA’s commitment to eliminating racial inequities in addiction research by evaluating how effectively NIDA-funded research addresses structural racism and health disparities in addiction science. Objectives will center on listening to communities and researchers engaged in this work, reviewing our portfolio of research and implementing steps to build science to address systematic racism and health disparities (HD). The team will strive to support action-oriented science to counteract the impact of discrimination. The overarching goal is to increase support for research projects that will impact disparities and that have not been given priority for funding.

Approach

  • To achieve the mission, NIDA undertook initial activities to identify gaps, barriers, and research priorities:
    • Held a scientific meeting to get input from the field: Enhancing Health Disparities Research Related to Substance Use and Addiction: Research Gaps and Opportunities February 16-17, 2021
    • Gathered information from NIDA staff, by holding listening sessions with NIDA staff and providing office hours for open discussion with staff
    • Conducted portfolio analysis to assess NIDA’s current research portfolio related to minority health and health disparities
  • Additional steps to be taken include the following:
    • Obtain input via a Request for Information (RFI) to identify additional areas of research or research processes to prioritize
    • Emphasize racial equity in the NIDA strategic plan
    • Modify the REI RGO Action Plan as new knowledge emerges
  • NIDA is committed to continuing to evaluate this area of science and engagement with the field to ensure maximal responsiveness. These efforts include the following:
    • Conducting portfolio analysis on a regular basis and tracking progress on goals
    • Developing mechanisms to foster dialog with the research community on a sustained basis, including holding listening sessions to identify research gaps

Research Goals and Objectives

The listening sessions held with staff, the portfolio analysis and the scientific meeting have led to the identification of initial research priorities, which are expected to evolve over time. Goals and objectives aimed at enhancing research where it has the greatest potential to reduce racial inequities in substance use and addiction include, but are not limited to, the following:

Goal 1. Understand the role of social determinants in substance use and misuse.

  • Objective 1.1. Explore social determinants of health and substance use disorder (SUD) outcomes in basic, clinical, epidemiological, services, and implementation studies.
  • Objective 1.2. Assess vulnerabilities, mechanisms, and progression of substance use and SUD in HD populations.
  • Objective 1.3. Assess and address stigma, discrimination, and prejudice in the context of SUD and treatment.
  • Objective 1.4. Explore etiology, protective factors, and challenges to the medical model.
  • Objective 1.5. Develop comprehensive and holistic tools to measure social and economic factors.
  • Objective 1.6. Advance basic science to understand racial disparities, including neuroscience and epigenomics, as ways to understand the consequences of racial discrimination
  • Objective 1.7. Ensure that clinical trials include underrepresented groups to investigate differences in treatment responses based on race and ethnicity to help tailor more personalized interventions

Goal 2. Identify interventions that address social determinants and are culturally competent.

  • Objective 2.1. Develop and test interventions for SUD that improve social determinants of health by addressing structural racism and historical trauma.
  • Objective 2.2. Develop and test targeted culturally-specific prevention and treatment interventions.
  • Objective 2.3. Advance research to scale and implement evidence-based interventions in HD populations.
  • Objective 2.4. Conduct health equity research in the justice system, with a focus on linkage to substance use and HIV treatment

Goal 3. Utilize a research framework that supports diversity, equity and inclusion.

Objective 3.1. Build research partnerships with state/local agencies and private health systems to develop models to eliminate systemic barriers to addiction care.

  • Objective 3.2. Include research designs and methodologies that enhance racial equity research and include measures of social and economic factors all NIDA clinical, epidemiological, services, and implementation studies.
  • Objective 3.3. Improve diversity, ancestry, and data quality of data sets and biorepositories.
  • Objective 3.4. Identify any biases in scientific review.
  • Objective 3.5. Develop strategies to ensure that research is community engaged, benefitting from community knowledge of areas in need of deeper understanding and that developed solutions will work in community settings.
  • Objective 3.6. Prioritize administrative processes within NIDA program and scientific review (Center for Scientific Review and NIDA) to enhance racial equity.

Progress

Since the formation of the REI, NIDA staff focused on research gaps and opportunities have worked to develop new initiatives to address gaps, many of which are forthcoming. Towards achieving the research goals and objectives, NIDA staff have participated in the NIH-wide NIMHD RFA: Understanding and Addressing the Impact of Structural Racism and Discrimination on Minority Health and Health Disparities (R01 Clinical Trial Optional) (RFA-MD-21-004). We also developed two Notices of Special Interest (NOSIs), published on May 17, 2021, to supplement currently funded projects to address health disparities research questions: NOT-DA-21-045Administrative Supplements to support engagement of functionally diverse teams to advance ongoing NIDA-funded research, and NOT-DA-21-044Administrative Supplements to Support Research on Health Equity in NIDA-funded Grant Awards. Eighteen awards were issued. We are also developing a training module for responsible use of large datasets for analysis of variables relating to race and ethnicity.

Looking Forward

This Action Plan is structured around the goals and objectives that emerged from the feedback provided to NIDA’s REI through listening sessions, office hours, and the proceedings of the scientific meeting Enhancing Health Disparities Research Related to Substance Use and Addiction: Research Gaps and Opportunities. It is intended to be a living document. As we accelerate progress across these priorities, we are mindful that our efforts must be continually informed by the experiences and perspectives of those impacted by racial inequity. We remain committed to continue seeking feedback from NIDA employees and the full range of NIDA stakeholders, and to incorporating this feedback into a dynamic and ongoing strategy toward racial equity. We seek to measure progress through objective measurement and accountability.