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RTI Stories

A Growing Need to Understand Substance Abuse, Addiction and Treatment

"Implementing the most comprehensive drug use and behavioral health study in the United States"

In 1988, RTI researchers began helping government agencies understand substance abuse, leveraging statistical and survey expertise to estimate the extent of abuse and substance trends across the nation. America has one of the highest substance abuse rates in the world, impacting millions of individuals and their families. Annually, federal, state and municipal agencies spend considerable taxpayer money on programs to stem substance abuse, and these agencies want to know the effectiveness of those programs.

Funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) gathers data on substance use and mental illness in the United States as a means of better understanding the issues and supporting the effective design and implementation of initiatives to reduce their impact. RTI conducts annual screenings and interviews on the nature, extent and consequences of illicit drug, tobacco, alcohol and nonmedical prescription drug use in the United States.

In 1999, RTI revised the survey, called the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) until 2002, to include the introduction of computer-assisted interviewing (CAI) methods for both screening households and interviewing selected respondents. The introduction of CAI technology was designed to produce more internally consistent data while still allowing the respondent to answer privately by using the audio computer-assisted self-interviewing (ACASI) method for the more sensitive parts of the interview, such as the drug use modules. Consequently, this ACASI approach allowed the respondent to enter answers to these sensitive questions directly into the computer away from the view of the field interviewer or any other household members. In addition, the questions were displayed on the screen for the respondent to read, and a recorded voice reading of the questions was provided to the respondent via earphones.

Today, NSDUH—one of RTI's largest and longest-standing research projects—is the primary source of national data on substance use and abuse and helps support prevention and treatment programs, monitor substance use trends, estimate the need for treatment and inform public health policy. It is used extensively by the finest state and federal agencies, university-based research groups and the media in their stories on substance use and abuse.