How substance use prevention research gets used in United States federal policy

Elizabeth C. Long, Jennifer Taylor Scott, Logan E. Craig, Sarah Prendergast, Jessica Pugel, Daniel Max Crowley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background and Aims: The growing body of research evidence on substance use and substance use disorder (SU/SUD) prevention could be leveraged to strengthen the intended impact of policies that address SU/SUD. The aim of the present study was to explore how research was used in United States federal legislation that emphasized SU/SUD prevention. Design: Using a mixed-methods approach, we assessed whether the use of research predicted a bill's legislative progress. We randomly sampled 10 bills that represented different types of research keywords to examine how research was used in these bills, applying content analysis. Setting: United States Congress. Participants/Cases: Federal legislation introduced between the 101st and the 114th Congresses (1989–2017; n = 1866). Measurements: The quantitative outcome measures were bills' likelihood of passing out of committee and being enacted. Qualitative outcomes included the ways research was used in legislation. Findings: Bills that used any research language were 2.2 times more likely to pass out of committee (OR = 2.18; 95% CI, 1.75, 2.72) and 82% more likely to be enacted (OR = 1.82; 95% CI, 1.23, 2.69) than bills not using research language. Bills using dissemination words were 57% more likely to pass out of committee (OR = 1.57; CI, 1.08, 2.28) and analysis words were 93% more likely (OR = 1.93; 95% CI, 1.51, 2.47) than bills not using dissemination or analysis words. Research was used to (i) define the problem to justify legislative action, (ii) address the problem by providing funding, and (iii) address the problem through industry regulations. However, there was a lack of research use that targets underlying risk and protective factors. Conclusions: In the US Congress, substance use and substance use disorder prevention bills that use research language appear to be more likely to progress in the legislative cycle than bills that do not, suggesting that legislation using research may be viewed as more credible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2235-2241
Number of pages7
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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