On June 16, the AAMC submitted comments to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Racial Equity Initiative Action Plan, established to “organize the Institute’s efforts with the goal of addressing the impact of structural racism on addiction science and to take action to promote racial equity in NIDA’s workplace, workforce, and research portfolio.” Advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) is a key component of the broader NIH-Wide Strategic Plan, and the NIH and NIDA stated in a March 2021 blog post, entitled “NIH and NIDA Work to End Structural Racism in Biomedical Science,” that the goal of these efforts is to “dismantle any NIH policies and discontinue any practices in [the institutes’] science that perpetuate racism.”
The AAMC has previously supported the NIH’s efforts to promote DEIA in its comments on the NIH-Wide Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (refer to Washington Highlights, April 8), the NIH UNITE Initiative on strengthening racial equity and diversity in the biomedical research workforce (refer to Washington Highlights, April 8, 2021), and the Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity Strategic Plan (refer to Washington Highlights, Feb. 18). The AAMC and AAMC Center for Health Justice have also supported the federal government’s equity agenda, including the recent implementation of the first ever Equity Action Plans across more than 90 federal agencies.
In its letter to NIDA, the AAMC addressed four areas of the action plan: community engagement, workplace and workforce activities, and NIDA’s research goals and objectives. Key recommendations included:
- Develop tools to ensure ongoing, bidirectional community engagement, an activity that requires an institute-wide approach and coordination with the NIH-Wide Strategic Plan.
- Garner frequent input from institute staff and a diverse cohort of NIH-funded grantees, including academic research institutions, to ensure a diverse and equitable workplace and workforce and to meet the related goals in the action plan requires.
- Identify specific barriers preventing certain communities from receiving funding opportunities, including implementation of hyperlocal and multisector collaborations to ensure equitable distribution of information across various locales.
- Expand NIDA’s understanding of the impact of factors and determinants of health in substance use and misuse, including the implementation of evidence-based interventions in disproportionately impacted populations. Consideration should also be given to opportunities to promote marijuana and substance use research, including increasing access for researchers to obtain samples from states that have legalized marijuana.
The comments concluded by noting that “structural racism has implications far beyond health care,” with the AAMC applauding NIDA’s interest in “creating more opportunities for equal representation” through development of the action plan.