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National Institute on Drug Abuse -  NIDA NOTES
News
Volume 12, Number 5
September/October 1997

NIDA Advances Drug Abuse Research in Andean Countries

By Robert Mathias, NIDA NOTES Staff Writer

As part of an ongoing effort to further international drug abuse research, NIDA is helping enhance drug abuse research in several countries in the Andes Mountain region of South America. Nearly 30 researchers from Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, and Chile attended a training workshop in Miami last fall that was designed to improve their research skills and encourage collaborative work with U.S. researchers.

"The Andean meeting is part of a broad NIDA program to build the international epidemiology research infrastructure," says Moira O'Brien of NIDA's Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research (DEPR). The program is providing technical assistance and training in epidemiological methods to researchers from other countries. It is also supporting cross-national, cross-cultural studies that may shed new light on factors that influence drug abuse behaviors. Taken together, these efforts are aimed at building international research networks to track emerging drug abuse trends and patterns around the world.

NIDA and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs of the U.S. Department of State put together the Andean meeting under an interagency agreement to increase the epidemiological research expertise of drug abuse researchers from the six South American countries. NIDA organized the meeting in collaboration with the Research Center of the Colombian National Drug Office and worked with senior South American researchers and NIDA-supported scientists to develop and present a training curriculum at the week-long workshop. The State Department identified appropriate researchers in each of the Andean countries and paid their travel expenses to the meeting. The meeting was facilitated by Dr. J. Bryan Page of the University of Miami, who also conducted several training sessions.

Helping Andean countries address their drug abuse problems benefits the United States because drug abuse is a global problem.

At the workshop, leading NIDA-supported epidemiological researchers conducted training sessions on a variety of research approaches to gathering and analyzing drug abuse data. Session topics ranged from how to use systematic methods to collect qualitative data about drug abuse to using structured survey instruments to collect quantitative data on drug abuse patterns and consequences.

Workshop participants will be able to use these techniques to obtain better information about the nature and extent of drug abuse in their countries, says Nick Kozel of DEPR. This knowledge should enable them to address their countries' drug abuse problems more effectively, he says. "Ultimately, helping these countries reduce their drug abuse problems benefits the United States because drug abuse is a global problem that respects no borders," Kozel points out.

Another major goal of the Andean meeting was to stimulate cross-national collaborative research between NIDA grantees and researchers from these countries, Dr. Zili Sloboda, who directs DEPR, says. "Drug use patterns differ across countries," she says. "We are interested in what drives and shapes those patterns." By characterizing differences and similarities in drug abuse behaviors, cross-national epidemiological studies can give researchers a better understanding of the roles that different social, cultural, and economic factors play in drug abuse, Dr. Sloboda says.

As a result of the meeting, several possible research collaborations between NIDA researchers and workshop participants are currently under discussion, says Dr. Sloboda. The kind of research that the meeting hopes to spur is exemplified by a current NIDA-funded study led by NIDA grantee Dr. Judith S. Brook of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Dr. Brook is working with Dr. Ivan Montoya-Bravo of the University of Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia, Dr. Louis Fernando Duque of the Asociación Colombiana de la Salud in Bogotá, and Marlen Garcia Teheran of Barranquilla to collect data on the causes, patterns, and consequences of drug use among Colombian youths. Ultimately, Dr. Brook will compare the findings of the Colombian study with findings from a similar long-term study she has been conducting on drug-using behaviors among minority youths in New York City. Comparing how drug abuse begins and progresses in these two populations could give researchers provocative clues about how family, school, and personality factors interact in different cultural settings to promote or counter drug abuse, says Dr. Sloboda. These clues could ultimately lead to more effective drug abuse interventions for various populations, she says.

NIDA NOTES - September/October 1997

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