Drug Abuse:

Research on Treatment May Not Address Current Needs

HRD-90-114: Published: Sep 12, 1990. Publicly Released: Sep 21, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO assessed: (1) the current state of knowledge regarding drug abuse treatment; (2) what influenced the state of knowledge regarding drug abuse treatment; and (3) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) activities aimed at developing drug abuse treatment knowledge.

GAO found that: (1) while the nature of the drug abuse problem fundamentally changed during the past decade, knowledge on drug abuse treatment advanced slowly; (2) a lack of large-scale evaluations of treatment programs and existing methodological shortcomings limited knowledge regarding drug abuse treatment effectiveness; (3) NIDA lacked a strategic research planning process, but planned to involve treatment practitioners in establishing priorities; (4) NIDA funding for the training of drug abuse researchers has not kept up with increases in funding for drug abuse research, resulting in an inadequate progression of drug abuse treatment research; (5) despite the recent cocaine and crack epidemic, NIDA treatment research gave priority to developing therapies for heroin and opiates addiction; and (6) NIDA recently began to place additional emphasis on developing cocaine abuse therapies, but did not expect results for several years.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NIDA was preparing an overall multiyear treatment research plan that would merge separate plans for medications development and nonpharmacological methods. The planning process for nonpharmacological methods includes input from members of the research community, treatment providers, and representatives of state organizations. These plans have been completed and are currently being merged into one document.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that NIDA-supported treatment research addresses the treatment needs of the drug-abusing population, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct NIDA to: (1) implement its strategic planning process; and (2) develop a plan that sets forth its long-term overall treatment research objectives and the relative priorities assigned to the different categories of treatment research. This plan should consider: (1) current and anticipated trends of drug abuse; and (2) the needs of practitioners from the drug abuse treatment community.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Academy of Sciences has completed its evaluation on research training needs for NIH, including NIDA. NIDA states that it will implement these recommendations if its FY 1995 request for a substantial increase in its National Research Service Award funding is approved.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration or NIDA to determine how many researchers are needed to carry out planned research and take appropriate action to ensure their availability.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services


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