DEC. 12, 2005 | Warren Bickel, Ph.D. considers his research to understand addiction as a journey, and during his investiture Nov. 30 as the Wilbur Mills Chair in Alcoholism and Abuse Drug Prevention, he told the crowd that he has been blessed by wonderful traveling companions.
“I love to learn new ideas and concepts and try to employ them to help answer the problems of addiction. Such sojourns, as many of you know, can at times be quite arduous, but solace is often obtained from one’s traveling companions who make the trip easier and often a joy,” he said, singling out his family, his lifelong close friends and his new coworkers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).
Bickel is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry in the UAMS College of Medicine, director of the Center for Addiction Research and director of the Interdisciplinary Tobacco Program in the College of Public Health. He was recruited to UAMS in 2004 from the University of Vermont in Burlington where he was a professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology, interim chair of the Department of Psychiatry and director of the Chittenden Center, an addictions treatment program.
Since coming to Arkansas, Bickel has learned a lot about U.S. Rep. Wilbur Mills, his powerful influence as the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and the alcoholism that lead to his retirement from politics.
“To his credit, he received treatment and remained abstinent for the remaining 17 years of his life. During those years he helped others with this addiction, spoke on the topic in every state, and raised money for treatment. His story is one of rising to great heights and facing and overcoming personal challenges,“ Bickel said. “And it is because of these personal and public successes in addressing addiction, that I am deeply honored to be named a Wilbur Mills Chair in Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Prevention.“
G. Richard Smith, M.D., professor and Marie Wilson Howells chair of the Department of Psychiatry, shared with the audience a poignant story illustrating the need for research into addiction. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, he and his wife, the Rev. Canon Susan Sims Smith, worked with three young men to get psychiatric treatment for their father, “Sam,” who suffers from alcoholism and was about to lose his home.
“The ravaging effect of addiction on Sam, his family, especially those young men trying to make their way in the world, his former wives, his employees, and our community are the reason why UAMS, the College of Medicine and the Department of Psychiatry is seeking to end addiction through treatment, research and education,” Smith said. “As part of our new Psychiatric Research Institute we have made a major commitment to eradicating addiction by having established the Center for Addiction Research and recruiting Warren Bickel to lead that effort.”
In speaking of Bickel, Smith said, “To give you some idea of his energy and success, 18 months ago, the center did not exist.” Smith then asked the employees of the Center for Addiction Research to stand. “There are several dozen people right now employed by the center, and it’s growing every day. Dr. Bickel has brought over 10 million in research grants to UAMS. That’s quite a small business that Warren is operating here and turning rapidly into a large one,” Smith said.
Charles Schuster, Ph.D., former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and a guest speaker, expressed his respect for those who started the Mills chair, adding that addiction disorders are frequently stigmatized “and to bring them out into the light by naming these two chairs is an absolutely phenomenal thing to do.” Michael Owens, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Pharmacology in the UAMS College of Medicine, holds the other Mills chair.
Schuster, who has known Bickel for many years, said “his contributions are immense in this field” and that he will “further the reputation of UAMS as a leader in substance abuse prevention. I say further because you have been in a leadership role already.”
Bickel is an international authority in examining the underlying behavioral processes of drug dependence in humans and has conducted research that examines novel, cost-effective ways to deliver treatment. He shifted the drug-taking behavior paradigm to include the context of cost, the magnitude of the drug’s influence and competing influences. His continuing research includes the behavioral economics of drug choice, impulsivity in drug dependence and delay discounting, and improving combined buprenorphine behavioral treatment.
Bickel is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, a fellow and past president of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence and former editor-in-chief of Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. He received a prestigious MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) Award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the National Institutes of Health for his work with the behavioral economics of drug choice.
Bickel received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from State University of New York at New Paltz, and his master’s and doctorate from the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He completed postdoctoral fellowships in bio-behavioral sciences and addiction respectively at North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Under Bickel’s leadership, the UAMS Center for Addiction Research has gathered some of the top researchers in the nation to delve into the behavioral and biological aspects of addiction. The goal of the Center is to enhance prevention, treatment, and policy related to addictive disorders through research.