Newswise — Deception by research participants is a problem that needs to be recognized and addressed, according to a recent review. Research participants who conceal or fabricate information to gain admission to and participate in clinical research – for example, when financial compensation is provided – can undermine the reliability and reproducibility of study findings, and may contribute to false conclusions about medication efficacy and safety. The authors of the review suggested ways to identify and thus minimize the enrollment of rule-breaking study subjects who aim to participate in alcohol research.

First, revised subject recruitment strategies could include using known approaches that increase the likelihood of reaching and enrolling appropriate rather than “professional” participants; creating and placing advertisements that more selectively target the population of interest; and accessing registries to help identify potential deceptive participants. Second, assessment strategies could include obtaining participant permission to review their medical records and contact providers and family members to verify the information that they provide; including experienced personnel trained in nonjudgmental interviewing approaches in the front-line assessment team; and using on-site and laboratory-based biomarkers to test for recent drinking habits, other drug use, and smoking. Third, study procedure strategies could include carrying out studies on an in-patient rather than outpatient basis and structuring participant payments to minimize the incentive to provide misleading information.

The authors assert that the alcohol-research field needs to be proactive in identifying deceptive participants even if this makes study enrollment more burdensome. Although implementing these procedures could reduce a study’s sample size, data quality should improve, resulting in larger effect sizes and more valid testing of study hypotheses. The authors concluded that, given shrinking research budgets and a greater need to invest funds wisely and effectively, now is the time to address what they call a “source of research contamination.”

Journal Link: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research