Statement of Dr. Michael Carome, Director, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group
Note: Today, the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) Advisory Committee to the Director issued a report on the $100 million National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)-sponsored study that is intended to assess the cardiovascular health effects of moderate alcohol consumption. The committee recommended that the alcohol study be terminated. The study had earned widespread notoriety in March when The New York Times published an article describing substantial evidence that senior NIAAA officials – in clear violation of long-standing NIH rules prohibiting solicitations of gifts by agency employees – orchestrated a concerted campaign to obtain funding for the study from the alcoholic beverage industry. The NIH halted enrollment in the study last month.
On March 19, Public Citizen called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General (IG) to investigate the conduct of those NIH officials. On April 11, Public Citizen and 13 other consumer advocacy, science and public health groups also urged HHS Secretary Alex Azar to request an IG investigation into this matter.
Public Citizen strongly supports the NIH advisory committee’s recommendation to terminate the NIAAA-sponsored alcohol study because the industry funding – and the manner in which that funding was solicited – already had irreparably undermined public trust in the design and integrity of the study. Public Citizen urges NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins to accept the committee’s recommendation and immediately terminate NIAAA sponsorship of the alcohol study.
The shocking allegations about senior NIH officials orchestrating an aggressive campaign to solicit such industry funding for the alcohol study still require an independent investigation by the HHS Inspector General. Those allegations severely damaged public trust in the NIH. Restoring that trust and holding all culpable NIH officials accountable can be accomplished only by such an investigation. Among the still unanswered key questions is whether anyone within the NIH Office of the Director was aware of, or played a significant role in, the alleged campaign to solicit industry funding for the alcohol study and whether any similar misconduct has occurred.