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Substance use disorder genetic research: investigators and participants grapple with the ethical issues

Coors, Marilyn E.a; Raymond, Kristen M.b

doi: 10.1097/YPG.0b013e328320800e
Original Articles

Objective This qualitative research examined the ethical concerns regarding the psychosocial issues, research design and implementation, and application of psychiatric genetic research on substance use disorders (SUD) from multiple perspectives.

Methods A literature review of the bioethics literature related to psychiatric genetics and focus groups explored the ethical implications of SUD genetic research. Twenty-six National Institute on Drug Abuse funded principal investigators in the field of psychiatric genetic research, nine adolescent patients in residential SUD treatment, and 10 relatives of patients participated in focus groups (held separately). The focus groups were recorded, transcribed, and the content was analyzed. The themes that emerged from the literature and the focus group transcripts were organized by using NVIVO7, a software package designed to manage, analyze, and compare narrative data.

Results Investigators and the literature expressed similar concerns regarding the ethical concerns associated with psychiatric genetic research including violation of privacy, misunderstanding about psychiatric genetics, stigmatization, commercialization, discrimination, eugenics, consequences of research on illegal behavior, unforeseen consequences, altered notion of individual responsibility, and others. Patients and their relatives showed little familiarity with the ethical issues as identified by professionals and little concern regarding most of the potential risks. The exception was apprehension associated with potential criminal justice uses of stored genetic information, in particular enforced therapy and stigmatization, which elicited some concern from all perspectives.

Conclusion The challenge for further research is to identify risks and benefits of SUD research that are germane in a behaviorally disinhibited population and devise effective tools to communicate information to participants through an improved informed consent process.

aCenter for Bioethics and Humanities

bDivision of Substance Dependence, Department of Psychiatry, University of Colorado Denver, Aurora, Colorado, USA

Correspondence to Marilyn E. Coors, PhD, Associate Professor of Bioethics, University of Colorado Denver Center for Bioethics and Humanities B137 13120 East 19th Avenue, Aurora, Colorado 80045, USA

Tel: +1 303 724 3993; fax: +1 303 724 3997;


Received 31 January 2008 Revised 2 October 2008 Accepted 23 October 2008

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.