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NIDA. (2003, October 1). NIDA National Prevention Research Initiative Begins Broad Range of Studies. Retrieved from

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October 01, 2003
Robert Mathias

NIDA's National Prevention Research Initiative (NPRI) has embarked on the next generation of prevention research. NIDA launched the comprehensive initiative last year with three requests for research that could accelerate the development of new approaches to preventing drug abuse and the adoption of research-based programs by communities in the United States. Now, a broad range of newly funded studies has put NPRI on a fast track to achieving its goals. The studies range from basic behavioral research to large-scale trials of proven prevention programs.

Photo of a mountain climber carrying a bikeOne recently funded study under the National Prevention Research Initiative seeks to identify more effective prevention strategies for high-sensation-seeking youths, whose strong need for stimulation places them at heightened risk for substance abuse. The study is examining how this population's motivation to seek reward affects how they respond to drug abuse prevention messages.

"We already have many interventions and prevention strategies that we know work," says Dr. Elizabeth Robertson of NIDA's Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research. "Instead of continuing to focus research on developing similar programs, NPRI is breaking new ground in all areas of prevention research. Basic studies are looking at fundamental features that could be incorporated into new prevention approaches. Comprehensive research centers are tapping knowledge from multiple scientific disciplines and applying them to innovative prevention approaches. And large-scale field trials are studying the implementation of research-tested programs at multiple sites with diverse populations."

Recently funded studies within each of three NPRI complementary components include the following efforts.

Basic Prevention Research

Studies in this arena seek to increase understanding of fundamental aspects of human behavior. Research findings will point to possible new prevention approaches or ways to improve existing programs. For example, more effective approaches are needed for youths with a strong need for stimulation that drives them to pursue new and thrilling experiences. These high-sensation-seeking (HSS) youths are known to be at increased risk for substance abuse. One of the first basic NPRI grants is a communications study assessing how basic differences in HSS youths' motivation to seek reward or avoid harm affect their responses to drug abuse prevention messages. Findings from this small lab study could aid the design of more precisely targeted media messages to deter drug use among youths with this personality trait.

Transdisciplinary Prevention Research Centers (TPRCs)

TPRCs will focus the collaborative efforts of neuroscientists, behavioral and cognitive scientists, and drug abuse prevention researchers on a specific research area that has the potential for producing new approaches to drug abuse prevention. Working as a team, TPRC scientists will synthesize and translate basic science discoveries in these areas into new prevention approaches. They will also study the underlying biological, psychological, and social processes that account for the outcomes of successful research-based programs and develop and test new prevention hypotheses based on their findings.

Late last year, NIDA awarded $6.5 million to the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles to establish the first TPRC. This Center is conducting basic research on memory, cognition, and peer group dynamics. For example, one study is assessing how a prevention program that has shown it can reduce drug use affects memory associations and unconscious thought processes that trigger drug use. Better understanding of the underlying behavioral states and thought processes that influence the program's efficacy could be applied to developing new prevention approaches or refining existing programs. NIDA is continuing to solicit applications to establish additional TPRCs.

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) mast headA University of Oregon field trial is using USDA's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) as a vehicle for delivering a family drug abuse prevention program to rural, suburban, and urban communities.

Large-Scale Community Prevention Field Trials

Field trials bring together researchers, State and local agencies, and prevention practitioners to identify the processes and mechanisms that contribute to the successful implementation and sustainability of science-based interventions in a range of settings. Late last year, NIDA awarded more than $4.5 million in grants for four field trials. Each trial is implementing a research-proven prevention intervention in a variety of communities. For example, a University of Oregon study is integrating a family drug abuse prevention program that focuses on improving parenting practices into the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in rural, suburban, and urban communities. WIC is a nationwide U.S. Department of Agriculture program that provides nutritional and other assistance to low-income women who are pregnant or have young children. The study is examining how the characteristics of program participants and the settings in which the program is delivered affect program implementation and effectiveness. Other field trials will

  • Test whether school staffers in several different urban settings can effectively deliver a delinquency and substance abuse prevention program targeting 5th- and 6th-graders who exhibit early signs of aggressive behavior.
  • Study how using onsite and remote training and technical assistance approaches affects the costs, accuracy, and effectiveness of implementing a school-based program in middle schools.
  • Examine systemic barriers to successfully implementing a parent-focused program in government-sponsored health programs on a countrywide scale in 435 municipalities in Norway. This international collaboration should answer questions about how cultural adaptation affects the program and whether government-sponsored health programs and municipalities can train large numbers of social workers, psychologists, and health workers to deliver the program accurately and effectively.