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In the 25 years since drug abuse re-emerged in China in the 1980s, the National Institute of Drug Dependence (NIDD) has made many contributions to China's antidrug campaign. This present paper offers an account of the history, current status and future of drug dependence research at NIDD. NIDD was originally a research centre at Beijing Medical University, founded by the Chinese Ministry of Health to address the rapid spread of drug abuse in China. Originally, the main task of NIDD was to complete the commissions assigned by the government and university. Further developments transformed NIDD into a national research institute in the field of drug addiction that began to conduct its own research. NIDD has now created a professional team spread across several independent departments involved in neurobiological mechanisms, epidemiological surveys and monitoring, pre-clinical and clinical evaluation of new drugs (mainly analgesic drugs and detoxification drugs) and informatics and data analysis. As a university-based research institute, NIDD's funding derives mainly from grants provided by the government and financial support from international organizations. Its past and present research has a gained NIDD a reputation with both practitioners and policy makers in the field of drug addiction. In the future, NIDD will continue to engage in various aspects of drug addiction research and will enter the field of brain function.