In 1985, Dr. Billy Frye, the Vice President for Academic Affairs, recognized there were a sizable number of faculty members with expertise in research and policy concerning substance abuse at The University of Michigan. The researchers, however, were separated by discipline within academic units across the university. Given the seriousness of the societal problems caused by substance abuse, he charged key faculty members to determine how closer working relationships could be constructed among different disciplines and units to facilitate research and scholarship in the field.

In 1987, the University of Michigan Substance Abuse Center (UMSAC) was created by Regental designation with funding provided by the newly appointed Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. James J. Duderstadt. The mission of the Center was to strengthen the work of individual members and to initiate and nurture collaborative, interdisciplinary efforts.

Phase 1

During the initial phase, from 1987-1990, the Center functioned administratively as part of the Department of Psychiatry in the Medical School. Dr. Ovide Pomerleau, Ph.D., served as interim director. At this time, a faculty Steering Committee was charged with implementing the organizational and governance structure, recruiting a permanent director, and initiating the substantive activities of the Center.

The Department of Psychiatry recruited Fred Glaser, M.D., a noted expert on treatment systems for substance abuse and author of a major Institute of Medicine report on substance abuse treatment, to serve as both Director of the Center and Director of the Chelsea-Arbor Substance Abuse Treatment Center in 1990. The highly committed and active Steering Committee was crucial to the continued success and growth of the Center during this period. Almost all of the original Steering Committee are still active members of the center.

Phase 2

The Center grew in budget and membership from 1990-1993. Seminars were held, a newsletter begun and interest groups were organized. In 1994 the Center wrote and was awarded a NIDA training grant, “Substance Abuse Interdisciplinary Training Program: From Bench to Bedside”. The PI was Dr. Glaser and the first trainee was a post-doctoral fellow, Dr. John Schulenberg.

In 1990, Dr. Duderstadt, then President of the University, requested a University-wide Task Force to develop a more coherent University policy on alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Dr. Glaser became co-chair of the coordinating committee. A substantial number of UMSAC members became members of the Task Force. The aim of the Task Force, however, was to develop a substance abuse policy at the University, rather than substance abuse research, the central task in the mission of UMSAC. The dilution of effort of the Director and a number of UMSAC members led to a reorganization and redefinition of the Center.

Phase 3

During the third, reorganization phase, responsibility for the Center moved from Dr. Zuidema, Vice Provost for Medical Affairs, to Dr. Rhetaugh Dumas, Vice Provost for Health Affairs. The duties of the Director were distributed among several members of the center. Dr. Lloyd Johnston, Chair of the Steering Committee, assumed responsibility for key functions as Acting Director. Drs. Toby Citrin, Beth Reed and John Schulenberg, members of the Steering Committee, assumed greater responsibility for oversight of Center activities. Drs. Ovide Pomerleau, Beth Reed and James Woods shared responsibility as principal investigators for the NIDA training grant.

Phase 4

The fourth phase of the Center began in 1995 when it began reporting to Dr. Homer Neal, Vice President for Research. In September Dr. Neal accepted the recommendation of the Steering Committee and appointed Dr. Carol Boyd as Director of the Center. Under Dr. Boyd’s leadership, the Steering Committee adopted a set of objectives and activities reflecting the Center’s orientation as an incubator unit. Also at this time, Dr. Neal suggested adding the term ‘Research’ to the Center’s name, thus bringing it to its current designation, The University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center (UMSARC).

Dr. Boyd served as an active and involved Director of the Center for 10 years. During that time UMSARC continued to grow in membership and scope. The UMSARC office added staff members and housed Research Scientists. The research of these scientists, such as the Survey Life Survey conducted by Drs. Carol Boyd and Sean McCabe (who served as Acting Director of UMSARC for 8 months), brings added public awareness to the research conducted through UMSARC. Although Dr. Boyd is a social scientist, she actively recruited biological scientists to UMSARC during her tenure. As a result, Dr. Margaret Gnegy, a biological scientist, was appointed in 2005 by the Vice President for Research, Dr. Fawwaz Ulaby, upon the recommendation of the Executive Committee (formerly Steering Committee).

In April 2008, Dr. John Traynor was appointed director of UMSARC. Dr. Margaret Gnegy remains principal investigator on UMSARC/NIDA training grant.