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Drug Alcohol Depend. 2003 Jan 24;69(1):73-85.

What does it take to retain substance-abusing adolescents in research protocols? Delineation of effort required, strategies undertaken, costs incurred, and 6-month post-treatment differences by retention difficulty.

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University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Center of Studies on Addiction, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Research retention rates vary widely due to practical difficulties that can be exacerbated when participants are minors. This article describes: (1) the range of effort required and type of follow-up strategies used to complete face-to-face follow-up interviews with substance-abusing adolescent research participants; (2) common locations of follow-up interviews; and (3) characteristics of difficult- versus easy-to-retain adolescent participants. Diverse contact strategies and numerous contact attempts were needed to obtain a 94% 1-month and 92% 6-month retention rate among substance-abusing adolescent research participants. About half of the youth did not respond to basic telephone tracking and required enhanced tracking efforts. Approximately 40% of the youth required 6 or more contacts prior to interview completion. The majority of follow-up interviews (60%) were conducted in community settings such as fast food restaurants, constituting the adolescent's preferred interview location. Telephone interviews were infrequent since adolescents wanted privacy and were concerned that a household member would listen to their answers. Those youth proving difficult-to-retain were significantly more likely to report serious problem behavior and poorer outcomes 6-months post-treatment within the alcohol/drug, juvenile justice, family, and educational domains. It was estimated that an additional $85 per participant per follow-up wave (over and above project budgets) was needed to adequately track, locate and interview an adolescent research participant. This expenditure appears reasonable to ensure a reliable/valid data set. Assessing the cost/benefit of different methods used in preventing attrition, identifying the minimum standards that avoid response bias and examining the impact of interviewer/participant alliances on data reliability/validity is discussed.

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