Substance use and addictions are now widely accepted as complex diseases, with a physiological as well as social and psychological basis. Research has evolved from identifying individual experiences to analysis of treatment, populations, and systemic issues. Despite this more nuanced understanding, substance use remains a stubborn problem, exacting enormous health and productivity costs, threatening family and community stability, and adding to an overburdened criminal justice system.
NORC conducts innovative research on drug treatment outcomes, dynamics of drug markets, and public perceptions of substance use, and we help organizations establish performance measures and evaluate programs. Beginning in 1971, we partnered with distinguished psychiatric epidemiologist Lee N. Robins on the Vietnam Veterans Drug Interview Survey. This classic study arose from deep concern about widespread drug use among U.S. soldiers in Vietnam—and the problems that could arise when they returned home to a nation struggling with a growing drug culture.
The Vietnam veterans study was noted for its high response rates, sample design, and results that challenged previously held views and enabled more effective support services. NORC’s expertise with substance use expanded further with a broad array of projects and diverse populations. We have conducted local surveys on Washington drug addicts who lost social security benefits when drug addiction was eliminated as a qualifying disability, surveyed substance use and mental health disparities in the Appalachian region, and gambling addiction in California. On a national scale, we have helped develop landmark studies like the five-wave Survey of Problem Drinking Among Women—one of the first studies on the topic—the National Treatment Improvement Evaluation, and the influence of media on social risk judgments. The ongoing study, Dynamics of Methamphetamine Markets, was one of the first to consider all local stakeholders—such as dealers and users—and meshed interactive Internet-based tools with Drug Enforcement Agency file data to create a detailed, street-level understanding of the epidemic.
This rich experience means that NORC brings exceptional sensitivity and objectivity to the unique challenges of substance use research: disclosure of highly personal and often illegal behavior, impaired or compromised responses, and difficult-to-reach transient or homeless populations. This expertise, combined with our innovative capabilities and holistic, interdisciplinary view of substance use, mental health, healthcare, and criminal justice, support effective decision making for substance use issues and programs.
Specific areas of expertise include: