WineAmerica Opposes the National Institute of Health’s Proposal to Eliminate the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

WineAmerica and other industry partners sent the following letter to Capitol Hill opposing the National Institute of Health’s proposal to eliminate the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The letter was signed by WineAmerica, The Wine Institute, The Beer Institute, The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, The National Beer Wholesalers Association, The National Association of Beverage Importers and Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America.

The Honorable Joe Pitts
Energy and Commerce Committee
Subcommittee on Health
United States House of Representatives
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

We are writing about the hearing you have scheduled for Thursday, June 21, 2012 regarding the National Institutes of Health: A Review of its Reforms, Priorities and Progress. We understand that Dr. Francis Collins, NIH Director, will testify on behalf of NIH.

The hearing is timely, because we just learned that NIH has decided to by-pass your Subcommittee in connection with NIH’s plan to abolish the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in order to create a new addiction-focused Institute. Instead of putting the proposed merger through the statutory process detailed in the NIH Reauthorization Act of 2006, which would involve your Subcommittee’s input, NIH plans to avoid substantive review of this merger by simply including the changes in its FY14 budget.

The NIH has failed to undertake the legally required assessment of administrative, logistical and financial costs associated with the merger and has also not presented any details regarding the mission of the new addiction-focused Institute. An informal cost analysis done by Dr. Bankole Johnson, of The University of Virginia estimates merger costs approaching $1 billion. Institute collaboration, which is already underway, is more effective and cost efficient. A structural merger would result in significant funding cuts for research. Additionally, it now appears unlikely that nicotine would move to the new addiction Institute. An important consideration in the proceedings of the Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB) meeting, which seemed to sway the vote for the structural merger, was the promise that the new proposed institute would
address nicotine, a serious addiction issue.

We are strongly opposed to NIH’s plan. Both NIAAA and NIDA work to understand the science behind addiction and abuse, and while increased collaboration may be appropriate, a structural merger of these two agencies is ill advised, because it will lead to a research environment in which legal alcohol and illegal drugs are deemed the same when, in fact, they are very different. This, in turn, would have unwarranted policy implications. Alcohol is a legal product, and the overwhelming majority of adults who choose to drink beverage alcohol, do so responsibly. Alcohol also has documented health benefits when consumed in moderation. Linking alcohol use with illicit drug use ignores these and many other facts. Linking alcohol use
with illicit drug use also turns back the clock on advances NIAAA has worked diligently to achieve in de-stigmatizing alcoholism to increase the likelihood that individuals will seek treatment.

In addition to its work on alcohol abuse and alcoholism, NIAAA supports research on the health effects of moderate drinking as well as metabolism of alcohol, organ pathology related to alcohol consumption, drunk driving, college binge drinking, and fetal alcohol syndrome. There is a substantial risk that these important areas of research will be lost if there is only a single institute devoted exclusively to addiction research. NIAAA also addresses a wide variety of policy issues including the effectiveness of measures to prevent illegal alcohol sales to underage or intoxicated persons. These important issues are unlikely to get the attention they need if NIH implements the structural merger.

We urge you to question Dr. Collins on this ill-advised structural merger for an addiction focused Institute as well as NIH’s apparent unwillingness to follow the statutory process detailed in the NIH Reauthorization Act of 2006.