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Monday, March 30, 2015

Drug Abuse Research and Studying Proper Populations

Why, why, why do so many people ignore the obvious risks and experiment with deadly substances like heroin? To escape, to experience pleasure, to relieve physical and psychological pain and trauma, to satisfy peer pressures -- we all know of credible evidence that supports these reasons for taking drugs.

But, who do researchers study to delve deeper into the risky attraction of substance abuse? The answer may surprise you.

Ph. D. Adi Jaffe, executive director of Alternatives Behavioral Health, instructs a class on the psychology of addition (Psych 477) at California State University in Long Beach. He states ...

"Nearly all addition research, especially studies utilizing "hard" drugs like cocaine, meth, opiates, etc., are required to make use of a very limited part of society -- drug using individuals with a history of use of the specific drug of interest who are specifically not interested in treatment.

"Individuals who have never tried the drug or who want to be treated for drug abuse or dependence (addiction) are excluded due to ethical concerns.

"In most studies, participants can not qualify if they are addicted to drugs other than those being studies (except smoking, for which exceptions are usually made since we'd be able left with no participants otherwise) or have any associated mental health disorders, which are very common among addicted individuals.

"I (Jaffe) would further assert that for at least a substantial portion of these research participants, the term "addicts" may not be appropriate since many addicts would not willingly give up using their favorite substance for a week or two to be replaces with a hospital bed and an experimenter controlled dose of drug or placebo.


"Taken together, our research subjects are pretty obviously not representative of all drug users, or all addicts, or all anything else.
They make up a very specific group -- less than perfect,
but what we have to work with."

(Adi Jaffe Ph.D. "Addiction Research — Who Are We Studying? Understanding research without its participants is pretty difficult. Psychology Today. March 12, 2012)

Why is the population of participants in these studies so important? Jaffe says, "There are probably still some serious differences between 'true' addicts, recreational users, and semi-chronic users that would be important to understand, but we can't so we don't."

Many studies assess the return of cognitive function after short or long term abstinence or test a new intervention on those who want treatment, but they still bring on limitations that need to be specifically considered.

Jaffe contends ...

"But when it comes to assessing mood effects, or indeed any of a number of subjective effects of drugs, drug cravings, and withdrawal, this limitation in the population to be studied is something that often needs to be made explicitly clear to most public consumers of research.

"Since we can't assess changes in mood, absorption rate, anxiety, or any other such measure (some exceptions for very low doses in very specific circumstances) among people who are new to the drug, we end up assessing them among people with a lot of experience, but not enough of a problem to want addiction treatment. Again, this should be considered a pretty specific type of drug user in my opinion."

Most addiction researchers recognize these issues and make them explicitly part of their research publications in a specific section called "Limitations" but what seems troubling is that the public doesn't have any awareness of these issues.

Rethinking and Looking For Answers

Dr. Adi Jaffe was once a drug dealer and meth addict. For over eight years Adi’s own out-of-control use and lifestyle that his drug-dealing brought on "made his life feel like something out of a beatnik novel directed by Tarantino." After being arrested for the 4th time, and going to rehab twice, Adi managed to steer his life back on course.

Now, Jaffe's goal is to bring the latest knowledge about addiction to the people who could benefit from it most -- those who are suffering because of it. His view is a holistic one, drawing from the best and most recent research to bring as complete a solution to addiction clients.

At Alternatives, Dr. Adi Jaffe serves as the Director of Research, education, and innovation and is in charge of client monitoring, technology solutions, and data collections and outcomes research.

In 2008, Jaffe started a student group called Psychology In Action and an informative website (click here --http://www.psychologyinaction.org/).


Trusted medical and psychological research are imperative to finding new methods for fighting substance addiction. Instead of limiting scholarly efforts to understand this disease, we must support efforts to open new avenues to success. Limitations based on "ethical concerns" that don't make sense inhibit understandings that could potentially save lives.

The Preamble of the American Psychological Association's Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct states the following:

"Psychologists are committed to increasing scientific and professional knowledge of behavior and people's understanding of themselves and others and to the use of such knowledge to improve the condition of individuals, organizations and society. Psychologists respect and protect civil and human rights and the central importance of freedom of inquiry and expression in research, teaching, and publication."



A responsible code of research for the APA is defined by federal agencies. Need I say more? The federal government often responds with turtle-like efficiency as red tape and politics clog important arteries of a desperate humankind. As the APA follows governmental restrictions to "respect and protect civil and human rights," a democracy should be aware a national epidemic supersedes antiquated policy in the field of research.

To say we are desperate for answers to curb drug abuse is the understatement of the new opiate age. I, for one, desperately want to know more about the attraction and the control associated with substances, and I want experts to study the right people and have opportunities to research for needed answers quickly. Judgments by unqualified statesmen and governmental officials can bring thorough, evidence-based research to a halt. Efforts to defeat the greed often associated with political corruption and power politics have to constantly contend with the stigma of a disease that threatens the future existence of a democratic American society.


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