Wilson Compton, M.D., M.P.E., a nationally known expert in substance use prevention, has been named deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
“I was very excited when I was offered the position. And I still am still excited. I applied for the job because I thought it was a terrific fit for my background,” Compton told Psychiatric News.
Wilson Compton, M.D., M.P.E., is the new deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Compton is a graduate of Amherst College, where he received a B.A. degree in English and of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where he had his first exposure to psychiatry.
“During medical school,” said Compton, “we do rotations in all specialty areas to see what will work . . . surgery, internal medicine. . . . I remember being impacted by the life stories of patients with mental illnesses and the devastation that those illnesses had caused in their lives, so it was certainly impressive that psychiatrists had a unique and powerful opportunity to help shape lives of people.”
Compton was affiliated with Washington University for 20 years—completing his psychiatry residency training there and becoming director of the Alcohol and Chemical Dependency Program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. While at Washington University, Compton led research primarily focused on opiate and cocaine use, as well as on HIV-associated risk behaviors related to drug use.
“Drug abuse is a major part of psychiatric disorders,” Compton noted in an interview with Psychiatric News. “When you think about it in the broadest sense, drug use is prevalent everywhere, but usage of particular drugs varies considerably from one location to another,” he noted, explaining that drug use variations are seen between geographical regions as little as 30 miles apart. “This is why I found public health to be so fascinating. This led me to consider addiction psychiatry as my career path.”
In 2002, Compton became director of NIDA’s Division of Epidemiology, Services, and Prevention Research. A primary focus of that job was assessing the extent of drug use in the United States and what research needs to be implemented to understand the individuals—both children and adults—who are at risk for drug abuse in efforts to avert the onset of substance use disorders.
In his new role at NIDA, Compton is responsible for the entire drug abuse research program alongside NIDA Director Nora Volkow, M.D., covering issues ranging from basic science to managed care.
Volkow expressed her excitement at working with Compton in his new position. “In more than a decade as a division director here at NIDA, he has built a formidable team supporting research into the extent and causes of substance abuse,” said Volkow in a press statement. “His passion is unwavering, and his enthusiasm to use science to find improved approaches to substance abuse management will inspire us all.”
Compton said that as deputy director he will continue focusing on population-level health issues and on making drug abuse research useful in terms of practice and policy, as well as ensuring that neuroscience developments are linked with interventions that help change people’s lives.
“My challenge as deputy director will be how to maintain creativity in a future-oriented prospective,” Compton said. “Research is at a unique time right now. I think that the tools and methods of neuroscience research are poised to help unravel and explain the mysteries of the human mind—not just the structural brain but how the mind functions—which is exciting to me and keeps me waking up every morning. I’m curious about what all the different findings that have merged basic science and psychiatry will mean to our field. I think that psychiatry will definitely see some major changes based on these integrated approaches.” ■