Who cares about ethical research in addiction treatment anyways?
When we do research in the addiction field, we are working with an important population of folks and we need follow the rules that guide other systems. Ethical research with human subjects should always be followed, and the researchers should be trained in collecting data from humans. It actually does matter.
Human Subjects Training (HST) follows some basics:
1. Respect for Persons
Participants in research, including self-reporting, survey research, need to have informed consent. Their information is confidential, their participation is voluntary, and they need to be informed of their rights. Seems basic enough, right? Written documentation of all these areas and verbal review of all these areas is required, and copies should be provided to each participant.
Do no harm. I wish I could say, "The End". But not everybody out there understands this concept. It is a huge area of ethics education and a motto for all of us in the health services industry. Yet, we sometimes do harm, and sometimes, research can harm people. So, a great way to prevent harm is having oversight. Independent Review Boards (IRBs) can oversee research in order to ensure it is being done with highest level of integrity and safety for the participants. Ultimately, the participants need to have the most safeguards. Providing an IRB with all documents and the research protocol for review and oversight allows researchers to know they are collecting data within an ethical framework.
We have to be fair when we are researching humans. We can't target certain people out of the population of participants, we don't exclude folks from participating, and we take additional precautions when working with vulnerable populations. And we certainly ensure that everyone is getting adequate treatment with minimal risk of injury when participating in research.
This means: Look for an IRB or ask about one when you are looking at data and statistics on addiction, outcomes, or other research. Look for a research protocol or ask about it. Seek out documents that were used in the actual research and ask questions about how confidentiality was ensured. Without these simple and crucial tools being used, we cannot guarantee that the research was done in an ethical manner, and therefore, we cannot be positive that the data has fidelity.
With these basics in mind, remember to ask questions. Question research, stats, numbers, ads, promises, outcomes. When something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Particularly in the addiction treatment industry. I am cautiously optimistic that with a little more education and a little less greed, we will be treating people better and providing better information to the world in no time. But it is up to us to learn, ask, and demand that the info we get is substantive, that has weight and depth, and that it has been ethically collected and carefully scrutinized.
You deserve it.