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Feasability study about a recurring survey on drug use in the general population (HARPA)

Research project DR/35 (Research action DR)

Persons :

Description :

1. Research context
Policymakers need reliable and accurate data about the nature and the extent of the drug phenomenon in Belgium. These data are necessary to define priorities, to plan efficient interventions, and to evaluate the long-term policy. Belgium is obligated to gather these data to inform the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) about the prevalence of drug use among the Belgian population. Although Belgium puts in a great effort to gain insight in the epidemiologic situation concerning drug use (e.g. among the schoolgoing youth), Belgium has no extended research tradition in relation to the prevalence of drug use. So far, the prevalence of drug use within the Belgian population has never been studied. Most European countries have already conducted one or more general population surveys but there are important intrinsic and methodological-technical differences.

2. Research aim
The aim of this research is a feasibility study of a repetitive survey among the general population. The research covers a detailed comparison of methods and designs, used in prevalence studies in other European countries, and the evaluation of the strengths, the restrictions, the preconditions and the costs of former studies, and includes a limited cognitive test of the included items with a view to the implementation of such study in Belgium, taking into account the general cultural and social practices and specific implications en limitations.

3. Research description
General population surveys are a crucial method to gain insight in the extent and patterns of (legal or illegal) drug use among the population, the characteristics of the users, the relation between drug use and demographic variables, and attitudes or opinions in several parts of the population. The feasibility study is composed of 5 foci, which are conducted in an integrated way:

(1) Intrinsic focus
The intrinsic focus concerns the content of the instrument. More specifically, this focus will determine which question modules must be present. Which concepts and which prevalence indicators, characteristics of drug use, socio demographic characteristics, lifestyle attributes and attitudes and opinions must be questioned?

(2) Methodological focus
Together with the intrinsic focus, the methodological focus is the core of this research project. Together with the questions that need to be asked, the feasibility study aims to answer to different research design questions. The methodological focus contains the method of the survey, the size of the sample (sample frame, overrepresentation, weighting, size) and the frequency of the survey (yearly, or more than once a year).

(3) Financial focus
The chances of survival of a recurrent prevalence study are to a great extent connected to the financial outline of the costs of the instrument. Experiences abroad show that these costs are closely linked with data gathering methods, the management of data and the length of the survey.

(4) Comparative focus
Setting up a recurrent measurement nowadays, only makes sense when there are possibilities to compare the collected data. Both the intrinsic and the methodological component will be considered from the comparative point of view in order to maximize the comparability of the collected data with data from other European countries, but at the same time taking into account the specific Belgian context.

(5) Utilitarian and valorization focus
The last element at stake in this study is the feasibility and desirability of the way the results will be dispersed. In Europe there is a growing awareness that large databases, paid by the government, must be user friendly and easily acceptable.

The study will be carried out by two research teams: ISD (Institute for Social Drug Research) and CELLO (Research Centre for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies).
ISD focuses on the intrinsic components, CELLO on the methodological-technical components. In close cooperation, they will discuss and integrate the different focuses from their own expertise.

The implementation of the feasibility study includes 5 phases: 1) literature review, 2) a panel study among experts, 3) an analysis and integration of the data, 4) a cognitive test and 5) writing up the report. The analysis of available literature aims at the implementation of a thorough meta-analysis of the international guidelines and existing prevalence studies in Europe. European guidelines as well as specific, already used research designs will evaluated on the basis of the most recent insights in the methodological literature (‘good practices’). On the basis of this literature review, the experts, responsible for the national prevalence studies in Europe, will be interviewed by e-mail about the intrinsic and the methodological-technical components of national prevalence studies. To conclude, the data will be analysed and reported. The findings of the expert survey will be compared with the results of the literature review in terms of financial aspects and possible valorisation. The final report will include a cognitive test of the suggested questionnaire items.

The result of the project will be a proposal of a ‘best fit’ design and of modules of questions which can be included in the instrument as well as an estimate of the costs of the chosen options. This must enable policymakers to decide whether or not and how to implement a national prevalence study.

Documentation :

Haalbaarheid van een repetitieve prevalentiestudie onder de algemene bevolking : eindrapport  Decorte, Tom - Mortelmans, Dimitri - Tieberghien, Julie  Gent : Academia Press, 2009 (PB6239)
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Haalbaarheid van een repetitieve prevalentiestudie onder de algemene bevolking : samenvatting    Brussel : Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid, 2009 (SP1958)
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Etude de faisabilité d'une étude de prévalence répétitive parmi la population générale : résumé    Bruxelles : Politique Scientifique fédérale, 2009 (SP1959)
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Feasibility study of a recurring survey on drug use in the general population : summary    Brussels : Federal Science Policy, 2009 (SP1960)
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Drug use: an overview of general population surveys in Europe : report    Brussels : Federal Science Policy, 2009 (SP1961)
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