Addiction research funding focused on “abstinence only”?

Federal grant search for active projects with the terms methadone, buprenorphine and naloxone
Federal grant search for active projects with the terms methadone, buprenorphine and naloxone

DJ Mac picks up on a story that also caught my eye and catches a line moaning about research bias in favor of abstinence-based programs. He pulled this quote.

The gorilla in the room around this question turns out to be the ideology of the decision makers. “There are ideological constraints tied to what gets funded,” says Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance in New York City. An example? The tendency to fund “abstinence only” programs and the war on drugs at the expense of drug prevention research. “There is not a lot of evidence of what works because it does not get studied. Today, kids lose their drug virginity before their sexual virginity. What’s the needle exchange of today?”

This struck me as odd, because NIDA seems to be heavily invested in promoting buprenorphine. So, I went to projectreporter.nih.gov and looked up active projects with the search terms “methadone OR buprenorphine OR naloxone”. It’s not a perfect method, but it tells you something, right?

Here’s what I found:

  • 220 active projects
  • $103,152,353 in total funding for these projects
  • These projects have generated 2028 publications that are now part of the evidence-base

“What’s the needle exchange of today?” It’s obviously naloxone, right? If you limit the search to just naloxone, you still get over $35,000,000. A search for “opioid AND abstinence” returns $41,450,238 in funding.

These results are consistent with the articles theme of research being oriented toward PhRMA, but not with Nadelmann’s argument that “abstinence only” rules the playground.