Farewell to Dr. Steve Gust, NIDA International Program Director

After more than 20 years leading the NIDA International Program, Steve Gust, Ph.D., retired on December 31, 2021. He says his greatest accomplishment has been working with colleagues around the world to build “a strong and unique global network of researchers and advocates for addressing substance use disorders from a scientific and humane perspective.” That’s true, but we’d also like to remember a few specific scientific advances that were accomplished through Steve’s collaborative approach. Throughout his tenure, Steve focused NIDA International Program efforts on three interrelated areas: promoting international collaborative research, building research capacity, and exchanging and communicating scientific information.  

Research Funding: Beginning in 2002, Steve helped NIDA craft funding opportunities that encouraged U.S. scientists to work with talented partners from other countries. The resulting grants and grant supplements supported more than 100 research projects in 40 countries, from Afghanistan to Vietnam. Among the projects supported were U.S. and Russian studies leading to the approval of extended-release injectable naltrexone (Vivitrol) to treat opioid use disorder; U.S. and French preclinical investigations on the effects of pre- and perinatal exposure to cannabinoids; and studies of drug-related HIV prevention and treatment in Africa, Asia, and Central and Eastern Europe. An agreement between NIDA and the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) was unique, successful, cost-effective, and a model for binational activities. Joint funding of 20 bi-national research projects addressing mutual priority areas resulted in significant advances and publications while leveraging scarce financial resources.  

Capacity Building: U.S. Department of State and international organizations focused on substance use note that their most reliable partners are the 540 NIDA fellows from 115 countries. During Steve’s tenure, the NIDA International Program expanded the types of fellowships available through NIDA by adding new research exchange programs for senior scientists and postdoctoral fellowships to promote prevention, clinical, HIV, and neuroscience research. The unique NIDA-supported Hubert H. Humphrey Drug Abuse Research Fellowships are the only science-based fellowships in the larger State Department program. Former NIDA fellows now lead addiction research organizations in countries such as Brazil, China, Georgia, Mexico, Peru, and Ukraine. Our recent evaluation of the NIDA postdoctoral fellowships using the measures of career outcomes, migration patterns, publications, cost per publication, and funding [Substance Abuse 2021;42(4):397-406], concluded that INVEST fellowships are cost-effective mechanisms to advance scientific knowledge, build addiction research capacity, foster international cooperation, and promote adoption of evidence-based addiction policies and interventions around the world. 

Scientific Exchange: The annual NIDA International Forum satellite meeting to the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) annual meeting is the NIDA International Program’s premier scientific event. Under Steve’s guidance, the meeting has grown in length, attendance, and impact. A 2009 session at the Forum spurred development of the 2014 World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on treating pregnant women with substance use disorders. In 2017, 80 percent of participants said the Forum helped establish new research partnerships, and 66 percent said the Forum helped them obtain research funding. The Forum also helped launch the Latin American epidemiology network, Red Latinoamericana de Investigaciones en Drogas with the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD); the International Program in Addiction Studies; and the International Women's and Children's Health and Gender (InWomen's) Group. In addition to WHO, the U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Legal Affairs and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime regularly support sessions to disseminate evidence-based programs to the audience of more than 200 participants from around the world. Cosponsors have included the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and Drugs, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CICAD, and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. The Forum also contributes to capacity-building efforts, with sessions devoted to publishing addiction research presented by the International Society of Addiction Journal Editors and the International Consortium of Universities for Drug Demand Reduction. A searchable, online database of Forum abstract presentations makes it easy to identify experts from other countries. To promote the NIDA International Program, Steve coauthored a number of peer-reviewed articles and textbook chapters, as well as co-edited supplemental issues to Drug and Alcohol Dependence [2006. 82(S1)] and Substance Use & Misuse [2011. 46(S1)].  

We know NIDA fellows and scientific colleagues from around the world join us in thanking Steve for his leadership. He valued input from everyone and empowered us to forge new paths through the International Program network. We wish him fond memories, new adventures, and good golf.