This message is a call to arms!
We fought long and hard to get Congress to establish the Office of Alternative Medicine. And now we are seeing that hard work compromised and threatened.
Officials at the National Institutes of Health are planning to demote the OAM and place it under the Office of Disease Prevention. Sounds logical, right? Well it's not, and here's why.
The OAM was set up to operate within the Office of the Director of NIH. OAM's Wayne Jonas reports directly to NIH Director Varmus and is a participant in Varmus' weekly senior staff meetings. There, Jonas can present the case for more research into alternative therapies and encourage collaborative efforts among NIH's several centers and institutes. Think of this as having a seat at the head table, with all that goes along with such access and influence.
Since Congress established the OAM in 1992, it has grown in stature and influence under Jonas' leadership. Funding is up from $2 million in 1992 to $7.4 million in 1996. OAM has funded more than 40 exploratory grants and has established 10 Clinical Research Centers around the country whose mission is to conduct studies to determine the effectiveness of alternative therapies. These Centers are at prestigious institutions like Harvard, Stanford, the University of Virginia and University of Texas/ M.D. Anderson. These Centers were selected because they are headed by experienced researchers with a track record of NIH funding in the past. Another Center is being established at Bastyr University of Natural Medicine, showing OAM also recognizes expertise from outside of the mainstream academic community. Taken together, their results will help determine once and for all which, if any, of the most popular alternative therapies are effective and which are not.
OAM has made great progress, and the future looked bright until we discovered NIH is developing a reorganization plan that will move OAM out of the Director's Office and place it under the Office of Disease Prevention. Jonas will no longer sit at the head table, but will report to the ODP director, who will be sitting at the head table. OAM loses the access and influence that were so valuable and necessary to promote more research into alternative therapies.
If the reorganization plan is adopted, we can expect to see OAM relegated to a minor position with diminished funding and influence. And Jonas' will lose a valuable position as one of the NIH Director's senior policy advisors.
If we do nothing, the reorganization plan will probably be adopted within the next few weeks. BUT, if we do not agree with this plan, and we want to SAVE the OAM seat at the head table, we must act promptly and decisively to lobby Congress and ask it to intervene.
We must contact our Representative and Senators NOW and urge them to investigate NIH's reorganization plan and prevent OAM from being reassigned to a position of less influence outside the Office of the Director. We must urge them to maintain the current OAM position in the NIH hierarchy and ensure that issues involving research into alternative medicine will be presented at the Director's senior policy staff meetings. We must insist that the OAM not lose its influence within the federal research agency.
If you agree that these objectives are important, and that such a lobbying campaign is a worthy goal, then you are encouraged to do three things.
1. Contact your elected representatives in the House and Senate and urge them to SAVE the OAM position within the Office of the NIH Director. Use your own words and express your own feelings, but get the message across that you want them to intervene and protect our hard-fought gains. You can write these Members, Fax them or call their offices on the telephone. Or, you can email them.
We have established an Internet-based Congressional directory that helps you send email messages swiftly and effortlessly to any Member of the House and Senate who has an email address. Most do, so use this resource if you are technically so inclined.
2. Contact everyone you know who supports these goals and share this information with them and get them to also contact Congress NOW. Get commitments from them to act on this immediately. Time is precious and Congress has plenty of other issues it is dealing with this summer. We must make this a priority.
3. Spread the word to health care practitioners and their patients, health food stores and their customers, independent distributors for network marketing companies, manufacturers of dietary supplements and their employees, and anyone else who you think shares our vision of what the OAM can do. Get them to contact Members of Congress and participate in this SAVE the OAM campaign.
Finally, here are some talking points that may be useful to you and your friends as you prepare your communications to Congress.
- Congress established the Office of Alternative Medicine in 1992 and placed it within the Office of the NIH Director.
- Finding for the first two years was a mere $2 million. Funding rose to $3.5 million in 1994, $5.4 million in 1995, and $7.4 million in 1996.
- The Congressional mandate said OAM was to facilitate the evaluation of alternative medical treatment modalities; investigate and evaluate the efficacy of alternative treatments; establish an information clearinghouse to exchange information with the public about alternative medicine; and to support research training in alternative medical practices. The Office has performed those functions admirably under Jonas' leadership.
- OAM has funded 42 exploratory grants with the meager funding it has received so far.
- OAM has funded 10 Clinical Research Centers around the country, at places such as Stanford, Harvard, University of Maryland, University of Virginia, University of California at Davis, University of Texas/ M.D. Anderson, and others. These Centers were selected because they are headed by experienced researchers with a track record of NIH funding in the past. And these Centers were co-funded with four other Institutes, Centers, and Offices at the NIH, including the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Dental Research, and the Office of Research on Women's Health. Such collaborative efforts might be jeapordized if OAM loses its seat at the head table with NIH Director Varmus.
- OAM uses the same rigorous standards for the review, funding, and evaluation of research in complementary and alternative medicine as the NIH does as a whole for conventional medical practices. If anything, OAM requires more rigorous standards than required in the many conventional areas because of the high level of skepticism about alternative medicine.
- All projects funded by OAM were reviewed by the Division of Research Grants or the National Center for Research Resources at the NIH, using the same criteria and process as that required for all NIH grant applications. Critics have falsely suggested that some of OAM's research projects are not worthy or scientifically valid.
- Under Wayne Jonas' leadership, OAM has moved decisively to engage the research community in collaborative efforts designed to find out promptly which alternative therapies are worthy of serious investigation. Such collaborative efforts require cooperation and mutual respect among the various NIH centers and institutes and the academic research community. If his office is relegated to a position of lesser importance, and he is denied a seat at the head table, OAM's influence with these collaborative partners will be diminished.
For more information about the Campaign to SAVE the OAM, please visit
Michael S. Evers, Esq. firstname.lastname@example.org
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