May 9, 2018

Public Citizen Applauds HHS Inspector General Review of Conduct of NIH Officials Who Sought Alcohol Industry Funding for Alcohol Health Study

Statement of Dr. Michael Carome, Director, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group

Note: On March 19 and March 22, Public Citizen called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General (IG) to investigate the conduct of National Institutes of Health (NIH) officials who allegedly helped solicit donations from the alcohol industry to fund a study on alcohol consumption. On April 11, Public Citizen and 13 other consumer advocacy, science and public health groups urged HHS Secretary Alex Azar to request an IG investigation into this matter. Earlier this week, Public Citizen received a letter from the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) indicating that the OIG “take[s] allegations of wrongdoing seriously and [is] reviewing the issues and concerns raised in [our] correspondence.”

Public Citizen applauds the decision by the HHS OIG to look into the serious allegations that NIH officials orchestrated a campaign to obtain funding from alcoholic beverage manufacturers to fund a $100 million National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism study that is intended to assess the cardiovascular health effects of moderate alcohol consumption. The conduct, first described by the New York Times, if confirmed, represents a serious violation of the NIH’s policy prohibiting solicitations of gifts by NIH employees and clearly undermines public trust in the integrity of the study and in the NIH.

An independent review by the HHS OIG of these allegations is essential to ensure public confidence in the integrity of the review and that all culpable NIH officials are held accountable. As we said in our April 11 letter to Azar, the internal NIH investigation into this matter that was initiated by NIH Director Francis Collins cannot be credible. Indeed, among the key unanswered questions is whether anyone within the NIH Office of the Director was aware of this campaign or played a significant role in the alleged solicitation of industry funds.

We are pleased that the HHS OIG shares our view that the public trust in the integrity of NIH-funded research studies is very important. We anxiously await the outcome of the OIG review.

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