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RTI Stories

NSDUH and Evidence-Based Practice Centers

RTI continues its tradition of quality health research

RTI researchers pursued a diverse portfolio of health care projects during the 1990s. Legacy projects like the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) entailed repeated contracts over the course of years (or even decades). For example, the Institute conducted the 15th iteration of NSDUH in 1994, which entailed more than 17,500 interviews.

That same year, RTI undertook its fifth survey of drug and alcohol abuse by military personnel, on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense. New questions were asked about health behaviors, including regularity of exercise, stress, tobacco use, sexual practices, and even the wearing of seat belts. For the first time, the survey also included a special section devoted to female soldiers' health issues and concerns.

New, as well as repeat, business beckoned. When Congress ordered the Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to identify the best and most appropriate health care practices based on available information on a specific disease, it was a tough assignment: the data was voluminous and often conflicting, frustrating even the best efforts of the medical community to make sense of it.

Given RTI's solid reputation for health care research, it was not surprising that the Institute, in collaboration with UNC-Chapel Hill, was selected in 1997 as one of 12 evidence-based practice centers to help fulfill this congressional mandate. Each practice center was charged with reviewing and analyzing the relevant scientific literature on selected medical topics and then developing evidence reports on how best to manage specific treatment decisions.

The RTI-UNC center was charged with developing an evidence report on the pharmacotherapy of alcohol dependence- that is, evaluating the efficacy of treatments for alcohol-dependent patients. In succeeding years, the center would tackle other health issues, such as management of preterm labor, dietary changes to reduce cancer risks, speech and language disorders causing disability, and the use of aspirin to prevent heart attacks. The center's multidisciplinary team, directed by RTI Distinguished Fellow Kathleen Lohr, drew from several research units at the Institute and five health sciences schools at UNC.