Volkow Favors Merger of Federal Drug, Alcohol Abuse Agencies


The New York Times profiles Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and great-granddaughter of Leon Trotsky. The drug abuse institute and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism will merged into a joint institute on addiction still in the planning stages. Dr. Volkow favors the merger, calling the current structure “an artificial division with many missed opportunities,” She “is as responsible as anyone,” says Dr. Don Des Jarlais of New York City’s Beth Israel Medical Center, “for showing that addiction really does cause changes in brain function. Her work is a primary basis for considering it a disease, rather than poor choices or immoral behavior.”

Treating people with prescription drug problems is particularly challenging, because physicians are the nation's pushers. The number of prescriptions written for potentially addictive pain medications has soared in the last decade, reaching more than 200 million in 2010. Surveys asking teenagers where they get pills find that relatively few buy from strangers. Many have their own prescriptions, often from dental work. Doctors may be flooding the country with narcotics, but most have never learned much about pain control. The Obama administration has called for doctors to have special training before being allowed to prescribe some of the most addictive painkillers.

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