Science Policy Branch (SPB)

What We Do:

The Science Policy Branch provides scientific leadership and advice on a wide range of drug use and addiction research and policy issues:

  • Synthesizes and disseminates information about NIDA-supported science and programmatic activities
  • Identifies, analyzes, and prepares briefing materials on behalf of the Institute
  • Provides timely responses to inquiries from Congress, other public agencies, professional organizations, and the public
  • Develops and provides scientific review of NIDA publications and multimedia initiatives
  • Monitors and coordinates NIDA’s response to broad policy issues related to drug use and addiction
  • Coordinates NIDA’s strategic planning, performance reporting, program evaluation, and OMB clearance for NIDA-sponsored data collections

Staff Biographies:

  • Emily Einstein, Ph.D., Branch Chief
    Emily Einstein, Ph.D. is Chief of Science Policy at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), where she leads a team that: develops materials to communicate the science of addictive drugs and substance use disorders to members of the public, the scientific community, the media, and the government; provides technical advising on legislation, regulation, and federal guideline development; conducts epidemiological research; and coordinates NIDA strategic planning. Prior to joining NIDA, Dr. Einstein was an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow in the Office of Autism Research Coordination at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Dr. Einstein completed her Ph.D. in neuroscience at Yale University, where her research was focused on the molecular and cellular mechanisms of opioid reward, and where she also served as coordinating graduate fellow of what is now the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning.
  • Jessica Cotto, M.P.H., Deputy Branch Chief 
    Ms. Cotto joined the Science Policy Branch in 2009 as a Health Science Policy Analyst.  Her primary responsibilities include analyzing data and synthesizing information from disparate sources to identify trends related to substance use and contributing to a variety of science-based materials to inform the public about drug use, abuse and addiction. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology from San Diego State University and a Master’s of Public Health in Epidemiology and Biostatistics from George Washington University. Prior to NIDA, Ms. Cotto served as a Clinical Research Associate for The Children's National Medical Center, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the National Cancer Institute.
  • Ruben Baler, Ph.D., Health Scientist Administrator 
    Dr. Ruben Baler joined the Science Policy Branch in NIDA’s Office of Science Policy and Communications in October 2004 as a Health Science Administrator. His early publications focused on gene promoter architecture and gene expression in the brain’s clock. At NIDA, he writes and lectures about the neurobiology of drug abuse and addiction for a range of audiences. Dr. Baler has gathered critical insight from diverse disciplines, which he combines to advance NIDA’s scientific mission as it intersects with cellular and molecular biology, genetics, immunology, bioinformatics, neuroscience, and neuroethics. Dr. Baler’s many contributions to other dissemination efforts include scientific writing (English and Spanish), teaching, public speaking to lay audiences, and fielding interview requests for a variety of print, radio, and broadcast media outlets. Prior to coming to NIDA, Dr. Baler worked at the National Institute of Mental Health, where he conducted basic research on the molecular basis of circadian gene expression in vertebrates. He received his Ph.D. in Microbiology and Molecular Biology from the University of Miami in 1993 and completed his postdoctoral training at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, specializing in Molecular Chronobiology.
  • Elizabeth Barfield Ph.D., Health Science Policy Analyst 
    Dr. Barfield joined the Science Policy Branch in 2021 as a Health Science Policy Analyst. She develops materials communicating NIDA-supported science and programmatic activities and provides guidance and advice on research and policy issues related to opioids and opioid use disorder. Before joining NIDA, Dr. Barfield was an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs at the Department of Defense, where she helped to inform evidence-based policies impacting the health of service members and their families and led a research project on military women’s health using medical billing data. She received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Emory University in 2018, where she investigated how stress during adolescence influences vulnerability to psychiatric and substance use disorders later in life.  
  • Julie Frost, M.S., Health Science Policy Analyst 
    Ms. Frost joined NIDA’s Science Policy Branch (SPB) in September 2019 where she develops key communications for senior leadership, inter-agency partners, Congress, and the public regarding Institute priorities, policies, and science. Her portfolio includes cannabis and cannabinoids, stimulants, the intersection of substance use and mental health, strategic planning, and evaluation. She also co-chairs NIDA’s trans-NIH Cannabis Science Interest group. Prior to joining SPB, she was a health science policy analyst at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Office of Science Policy, Planning, and Communications. Before entering the field of science policy, Ms. Frost conducted neuroimaging research on childhood and adolescent mood disorders in the Intramural Research Program at NIMH and the Laureate Institute for Brain Research. She earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees in psychology with a focus on neuroscience from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and conducted her graduate neuroimaging studies at the Medical College of Wisconsin where she studied language processing and developmental dyslexia.
  • Beth Han, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H, Epidemiologist 
    Dr. Beth Han joined the Science Policy Branch as an Epidemiologist in 2020. Prior to coming to NIDA, Dr. Han worked at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, where she conducted research on addiction, substance use treatments, suicide prevention, mental illnesses, mental health care, and co-occurring disorders and related treatments. She is the recipient of the American Public Health Association's the 2003 James G. Zimmer New Investigator Research Award. Dr. Han has been elected a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America and served as an editorial board member of The Gerontologist. She has authored or co-authored over 80 peer-reviewed journal articles and about 50 government reports and book chapters. Her articles have been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Annals of Internal Medicine, Lancet Psychiatry, American Journal of Psychiatry, Addiction, Health Affairs, American Journal of Public Health, Medical Care, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, The Gerontologist, and many other journals, books, and government reports. Dr. Han’s research findings have been reported by NBC Nightly News, ABC, CBS, CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, NPR, and other media networks informing clinicians, policy makers, and the public about behavioral health issues, treatment gaps, and related clinical and policy implications.
  • Dan Stimson J.D., Ph.D., Health Science Policy Analyst 
    Dr. Stimson joined SPB in December 2021. He started his NIH career in 2006 as a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow and science-writer editor at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. He later served as science communications branch chief at the National Eye Institute (2013-2016) and science policy branch chief at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (2016-2021). In these roles, he has worked closely with NIH scientific staff and leadership to keep Congress, advocacy groups, the media, and public informed about NIH research activities and advances. His portfolio at NIDA includes psychedelics, telehealth, and analysis of legislation related to substance use disorders. Dr. Stimson holds a J.D. and Ph.D. in Neuroscience, both from the University of Arizona, where he used the fruit fly as a model system to study how neurons control the release and recycling of neurotransmitters.
  • Rachel Tillage, Ph.D., Health Science Policy Analyst
    Dr. Tillage joined NIDA’s Office of Science Policy and Communications in November 2022 as a Scientific Program Specialist. Prior to this, she worked in the office starting in August 2021 as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow. She supports trans-NIH programs, such as the NIH HEAL Initiative, and contributes to a range of science policy, legislative, and communication efforts. Dr. Tillage has a B.S. in biology from the University of Richmond and completed her Ph.D. in neuroscience and postdoctoral fellowship at Emory University, where her research focused on the neural mechanisms underlying stress resilience and stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders.
  • Eric Wargo Ph.D., Science Writer 
    Dr. Wargo currently serves as a Science Writer in the Science Policy Branch (SPB) of NIDA’s Office of Science Policy and Communications. Before coming to NIH in 2012, he was Editorial Director at the Association for Psychological Science in Washington, DC. There he managed two top-ranked journals: Current Directions in Psychological Science and Psychological Science in the Public Interest. In SPB, Dr. Wargo writes and edits a variety of materials for a range of audiences, including fact sheets, blog posts, and other web materials; treatment guides for clinicians; and responses to congressional inquiries and other special projects. He received a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Emory University in 2000.