Clueless National Institute on Drug Abuse Leader Should Step Down

April 26, 2015 Updated: April 26, 2015

The year was 2010. The place–New Orleans where the American Psychiatric Association was holding its annual meeting. In a special presentation for the press, Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shared breathlessly that her institute was working on a “vaccine” for drug addiction.

 As a reporter who covers addiction/alcoholism and has members of both demographics in my family, I let out a gasp. You have to be pretty removed from the world of substance dependence to think a “vaccine” would do anything but make money for vaccine makers.

 Addiction cannot be treated with a drug or pill because it is a disease of the mind, body and spirit as Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, observed over 70 years ago. The signature symptom of addiction is “denial” which is why no alcoholic or addict would voluntarily take Volkow’s vaccine (and why Antabuse/ disulfiram fails for most people).

 Volkow’s pursuit of an “addiction vaccine” includes frequent publishing of addiction research with drug industry representatives—with no apparent firewall between private industry and our tax dollars. These conflicts of interest are especially offensive since the current national opioid addiction epidemic is now known to have been driven by drug companies who paid doctors to rewrite pain treatment guidelines to favor opioids.

 Nor are animals spared the fool’s errand of an “addiction vaccine.”



 One Volkow paper includes a gory photo depicting a “pregnant bonnet macaque in transverse position within HR+ PET scanner . . . positioned so that maternal and fetal organs were within same field of view.” One man I interviewed who sustained an alcohol-related spinal cord injury in his twenties and now uses a wheelchair told me such research on animals is appalling. “Monkeys didn’t drink and drive like I did—why should they suffer?” he said.

 The folly of Volkow’s quest is further highlighted by a recent New York Times article about Michael Botticelli, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy who is recovering from addiction himself and “the first person in substance-abuse recovery to hold the position,” says the Times.

 Botticelli’s “history, far from the liability it once may have been, is considered evidence that the government is moving toward addressing drug abuse more through healing than handcuffs,” observes the Times.

 While “takes one to know one” may hail back to schoolyard playground antics, it is spot on with alcoholism and drug addiction. As a recovering person Botticelli has the ability to reach and help addicted people that MDs and PhDs and other “experts” lack.

Volkow, on the other hand, in seeking a “addiction vaccine” shows embarrassing ignorance of addiction, alcoholism and our national drug problem. She should step down.

 (And speaking of embarrassing, isn’t it time to lose the word “abuse” in National Institute on Drug Abuse?)