Assessing sample representativeness in randomized controlled trials: application to the National Institute of Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network

Addiction. 2016 Jul;111(7):1226-34. doi: 10.1111/add.13327. Epub 2016 Apr 1.


Aims: To compare the characteristics of individuals participating in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of treatments of substance use disorder (SUD) with individuals receiving treatment in usual care settings, and to provide a summary quantitative measure of differences between characteristics of these two groups of individuals using propensity score methods. Design Analyses using data from RCT samples from the National Institute of Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network (CTN) and target populations of patients drawn from the Treatment Episodes Data Set-Admissions (TEDS-A). Settings Multiple clinical trial sites and nation-wide usual SUD treatment settings in the United States.

Participants: A total of 3592 individuals from 10 CTN samples and 1 602 226 individuals selected from TEDS-A between 2001 and 2009. Measurements The propensity scores for enrolling in the RCTs were computed based on the following nine observable characteristics: sex, race/ethnicity, age, education, employment status, marital status, admission to treatment through criminal justice, intravenous drug use and the number of prior treatments. Findings The proportion of those with ≥ 12 years of education and the proportion of those who had full-time jobs were significantly higher among RCT samples than among target populations (in seven and nine trials, respectively, at P < 0.001). The pooled difference in the mean propensity scores between the RCTs and the target population was 1.54 standard deviations and was statistically significant at P < 0.001.

Conclusions: In the United States, individuals recruited into randomized controlled trials of substance use disorder treatments appear to be very different from individuals receiving treatment in usual care settings. Notably, RCT participants tend to have more years of education and a greater likelihood of full-time work compared with people receiving care in usual care settings.

Keywords: Clinical trials; sample representativeness; substance use disorders.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Child
  • Criminal Law
  • Educational Status*
  • Employment*
  • Ethnicity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marital Status*
  • Middle Aged
  • National Institutes of Health (U.S.)
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic*
  • Sex Distribution
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult