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Would participating as a subject in an experimental study on some aspect of addiction treatment be right for you?

At the time of publication The National Institute of Health was advertising more than 119 000 clinical trials across American and in many countries of the world.

There are some attractive elements of clinical trials participation (not least of which being that your treatment might well be free of charge) but it’s not something to go into lightly or before you’ve got all the facts.

Read on to learn more on the benefits and drawbacks of clinical trials participation and consider whether getting into an experimental study on addiction treatment is a good decision for you.

What Is a Clinical Trial?

A clinical trial is a health related research study done on humans. Many are done to evaluate the effectiveness of a new or modified type of therapy or medication. Clinical trials are also used to evaluate the safety and side effects of a novel therapy or medication.

Participants in most clinical trials will be assigned to receive a certain intervention (therapy or medication) and the outcome or effectiveness of this intervention will be carefully recorded. In most cases, other participants in the same study will receive a different type of intervention, so that the effectiveness of the novel intervention can be compared against the effectiveness of an existing intervention.

In many studies, some participants are assigned to a control group. Subjects assigned to a control group may receive a placebo therapy or medication. In most cases, neither the subjects nor the investigators will know which participants are receiving the active intervention and which are receiving the placebo intervention.

Having a control group helps researchers to better understand what their intervention is doing, but if you are considering a clinical trial which uses a control group you have to accept that you may be randomly assigned to the group which receives a placebo. This is not something you will have any control over.

All reputable clinical trials begin with a process of informed consent, during which potential study subjects are educated about the intentions of the research, the possible risks and benefits of participation, the duration of the study, what will be required of each participant and any other salient details.

After each participant understands the purpose, risks and benefits of the study they will be asked to sign an informed consent document. This document only affirms that the study participant understands the risks and objectives of the study; it is not a contract and signing it does not commit you to any course of action. In all clinical trials, you are free to withdraw from the study at any time and for any reason.

The Pros and Cons of Clinical Trials

Some of the Benefits of Clinical Trials Participation Include:

  • Your treatment may be free or greatly subsidized. In some case, you may even be paid to participate
  • You may gain access to therapies or medications that are not yet available elsewhere
  • You may receive treatment from top experts in their field
  • You may avoid lengthy waiting lists for treatment
  • You will be assisting in the important process of health research
  • You can withdraw from a study at any time, so you may  have little to lose in trying one out

Some of the Drawbacks of Clinical Trials Participation Include:

  • The experimental intervention may produce unknown dangerous or unpleasant side effects
  • You may be assigned to a placebo group and receive no active medication or therapy
  • You may be required to travel to a hospital or clinic more frequently and spend more time receiving care then you otherwise might
  • The experimental treatment may not work well

Where to Learn About Clinical Trials in Your Area

The National Institute of Health runs a clinical trials website. At this website you can search by location and by keyword for illness/type of treatment to find clinical trials recruiting volunteers in an area near you.1

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Page last updated Aug 15, 2016

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