Perceptions of research risk and undue influence: Implications for ethics of research conducted with cocaine users

Justin C. Strickland, William W. Stoops

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Background: Despite the prominence of human laboratory and clinical trial research in the development of interventions for substance use disorders, this research presents numerous ethical challenges. Ethical principles outlined in the Belmont Report, including respect for persons, beneficence, and justice, have traditionally guided research conduct. Few empirical studies exist examining substance abuse research ethics. The present study examined perceptions of beneficence and respect for persons in substance use research, including relative risk and desired monetary compensation, using an online sample of cocaine users. Methods: The study was conducted on's Mechanical Turk (mTurk), a crowdsourcing website used for survey-based research. Of 1764 individuals screened, 138 reported past year cocaine use. These respondents completed a battery of standardized and experimenter-designed questionnaires used to characterize each respondent's self-reported attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors about drug use and the relative risks and desired monetary compensation associated with research participation. Results: Ratings of relative risk revealed that most respondents found common research practices as less than or equal to the relative risk of everyday life. Receiving experimental medication outside the hospital was rated as the most risky research activity, but on average was not rated as presenting more risk than everyday life. Desired compensation for research participation was associated with the perceived risk of research activities. Increases in desired compensation for participation were only observed for research perceived as much more risky than everyday activities. Conclusions: These findings indicate that cocaine users assess risk in a way that is consistent with standard research practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5753
Pages (from-to)304-310
Number of pages7
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by professional development funds from the University of Kentucky Department of Behavioral Science to WWS. This funding source had no role in study design, data collection or analysis, or preparation and submission of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.


  • Clinical
  • Drugs
  • Ethics
  • Mechanical Turk
  • Substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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