Funding Inequities Letter to NIH

The CPDD Board of Directors and CPDD NIH Inequity Funding Task Force sent the below letter to NIH in July 2022

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July 14, 2022

Nora D. Volkow, MD
Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

George F. Koob, PhD
Director, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Dear Dr. Volkow and Dr. Koob,

The College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD), the oldest and largest organization dedicated to research on substance use disorders, has been engaged in discussions around NIH racial funding inequities over the last year. Specifically, as described in Ginther et al., 2011, Hoppe et al., 2019 and Taffe and Gilpin 2022, Black/African-American applicants experience a significant disadvantage in receiving NIH funding. In light of this, CPDD empaneled a task force that was charged with reviewing information about NIH funding inequities and developing a list of actions CPDD could take to help address these inequities.

The task force identified steps that NIH Institutes like NIDA and NIAAA can take to address funding inequities. At the most recent CPDD Board of Directors meeting, these steps (outlined below) were reviewed and approved as recommendations to be made to NIDA and NIAAA.

  • We urge NIDA and NIAAA to increase representation of underrepresented groups in the scientific workforce by:
    1. Promoting research careers among younger age groups
    2. Increasing T32 pre- and post-doctoral training opportunities for scientists from underrepresented groups and providing resources for T32 directors to diversify their programs
    3. Developing grant writing and mentorship programs for underrepresented trainees and early-career investigators
    4. Raising salary caps
    5. Increasing acceptability and inclusivity of underrepresented scientists (e.g., by creating peer and mentor networks that can help these individuals feel more connected and supported)
  • We ask NIDA and NIAAA to increase funding to individual minority scientists by:
    1. We recognize that minority supplements are increasingly difficult to acquire, and encourage the promotion, streamlining, and expansion of minority supplements, including for R25 awards
    2. Promoting SBIR/STTR programs specific to minority-owned businesses
    3. Developing new funding mechanisms for Early Career Investigators (ECIs) from under-represented backgrounds
    4. Incentivizing collaboration/community engagement when reviewers consider grants/grant scores
    5. Including diversity of Principal Investigator (PI) and investigative team in the grant scoring process and on applications, similar to what is currently done for New Investigators/ECIs
    6. Making Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) a score driving factor in scientific review
  • We recommend that NIDA and NIAAA increase funding of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Non-R1 Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) by:
    1. Increasing infrastructure capacity of HBCUs/HSIs/MSIs to conduct research (e.g., studies with Schedule 1 drugs)
    2. Establishing new independent Centers of Excellence awards for HBCUs/HSIs/MSIs
    3. Including HBCUs/HSIs/MSIs in NIDA/NIAAA Clinical Trials Networks
    4. Incentivizing partnerships between Tier 1 research institutions and minority-serving institutions as the primary award recipient
    5. Replicating the National Cancer Insitutes’s Comprehensive Minority Institution/Cancer Center Partnership U54 mechanism
    6. Providing education to HBCUs/HSIs/MSIs on the use of indirect costs (IDCs) to build and sustain research infrastructure
  • It is critical that NIH study sections be diversified. We ask that NIH collect data on study section diversity and funding of applications by underrepresented researchers. Study section demographics should reflect the population of the United States, not just the population of science faculty or grant applicants. Study section members should be drawn from the pool of NIH applicants, not just grant recipients. In addition, we call for training of grant reviewers on issues of DEI, similar to past training on “sex as a biological variable.” Lastly, we recommend the establishment of a program that recruits underrepresented individuals as grant reviewers, similar to or as part of the early career reviewer program.
    1. We encourage universal DEI and bias training for all reviewers.
  • We encourage NIDA and NIAAA to diversify program staff.
  • We ask NIDA and NIAAA to commit to transparency of exception pay decisions by acknowledging de facto, virtual paylines and using discretion to increase the number of awards to scientists from underrepresented groups.
  • We request that NIDA and NIAAA collect and report on assignment of substance use disorder research grants to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the National Institute of Nursing Research and other Institutes and Centers.

In addition to these recommended action steps that NIDA and NIAAA can take to address racial funding inequities, CPDD has additional recommendations regarding evaluation and accountability in this area.

  • Make NIH Listening Sessions regarding DEI and funding inequities recurring events.
  • Survey NIH applicants, both successful and unsuccessful, concerning demographics, useful NIH measures that can enhance funding equity and experiences with funding.
  • Evaluate racial and ethnic composition of NIH study sections, including those associated with the Center for Scientific Review and in-house at various Institutes and Centers. These data should be made publicly available on an annual basis.
  • Evaluate NIH funding as a function of PI race and ethnicity. NIH should examine funding rates across demographics within and above virtual pay lines.
  • Make data on NIH funding as a function of race and ethnicity across Institute and Center Divisions and Branches publicly available on an annual basis.
  • Fund an extramural research group to collect longitudinal data on underrepresented scientists as they progress through their careers to assess the impact of these recommended changes.

We thank you for taking time to consider our requests and recommendations. CPDD is strongly committed to addressing funding inequities and stands ready to offer all of our resources to NIDA and NIAAA to achieve these goals. We will follow up with you in 30 days to discuss further steps. In the interim, please do not hesitate to contact CPDD at if you require further information.

CPDD Board of Directors and CPDD NIH Inequity Funding Task Force
Jasjit Ahluwalia, M.D., M.P.H., M.S., Brown University
Sudie Back, Ph.D., Medical University of South Carolina
Jack Bergman, Ph.D., McLean Hospital/Harvard Med School
Qiana Brown, LCSW,M.P.H.,M.S.W.,Ph.D., Rutgers University
Ivy Carroll, Ph.D., RTI International
Sandra Comer, Ph.D., Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute
Ziva Cooper, Ph.D., UCLA
Kelly Dunn, M.B.A.,Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Sherecce Fields, Ph.D., Texas A&M University
Francesca Filbey, Ph.D., University of Texas at Dallas
Albert Garcia-Romeu, M.A.,Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Cassandra Gipson-Reichardt, Ph.D., University of Kentucky
Charles Gorodetzky, M.D.,Ph.D.
Deborah Hasin, Ph.D., Columbia University
Angela Heads, Ph.D., The University of Texas Health Science Center At Houston
Jack Henningfield, Ph.D., Pinney Associates
Amy Janes, Ph.D., National Institute on Drug Abuse
Jermaine Jones, Ph.D., Columbia University Irving Medical Center
Frances Levin, M.D., Columbia University Irving Medical Center/New York State Psychiatric Institute
Wendy Lynch, Ph.D., University of Virginia
Silvia Martins, M.D., Columbia University
Angela Moreland, Ph.D., Medical University of South Carolina
Marco Pravetoni, Ph.D., University of Washington School of Medicine
James Rowlett, Ph.D., University of Mississippi Medical Center
Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D., University of Vermont
William Stoops, Ph.D., University of Kentucky
Dace Svikis, Ph.D., Virginia Commonwealth University
Michael Taffe, Ph.D., University of California, San Diego
Andrew Tompkins, M.D., University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine
Erin Winstanley, Ph.D., West Virginia University