Strengthening partnerships between substance use researchers and policy makers to take advantage of a window of opportunity

Zachary F. Meisel, Julia Mitchell, Daniel Polsky, Nada Boualam, Ellen McGeoch, Janet Weiner, Matthew Miclette, Jonathan Purtle, Bruce Schackman, Carolyn C. Cannuscio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The National Institute on Drug Abuse has identified a persistent research-to-practice gap in the implementation of evidence-based prevention and treatment programs for substance use disorder. To identify mechanisms to close this gap, we sought to obtain and characterize the range of policy makers' perspectives on the use of research in substance use disorder treatment and coverage decisions. Methods: We conducted open-ended, semi-structured interviews with a purposive sample of eighteen policy makers involved in the delivery of health services. The aim was to identify barriers and facilitators, attitudes, beliefs, and experiences surrounding the use of research related to the treatment and economics of substance use disorder. Results: The analysis generated four themes: 1) policy maker engagement with evidence and researchers; 2) strategic use and usefulness of research; 3) scientific rigor versus relevance; and 4) communication of evidence. Within each theme, the participants identified barriers, facilitators, current practice, and gave their perspectives on "ideal conditions" for research design, conduct and communication. Conclusions: Recommendations for investigators are the following actionable steps: 1) partner with policy makers early in the research process, 2) formulate and use research designs to meet the strategic goals of end-users; 3) systematically test alternative phrasing of scientific terminology - particularly in the realm of cost effectiveness research - that allow end users to better understand and repurpose the data; 4) incorporate qualitative research methods to uncover the narratives that explain the context and relevance of evidence; 5) incorporate study designs that prioritize timeliness of results; and 6) promote and reward researcher involvement in policy discussions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12
JournalSubstance Abuse: Treatment, Prevention, and Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 4 2019


  • Knowledge transfer
  • Policy
  • Substance use disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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