Volunteer Recovery Support for Adolescents

Using Propensity Score Based Methods to Understand Dosage Effects Within a Randomized Controlled Trial

Published in: Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Volume 132 (January 2022). doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2021.108637

Posted on RAND.org on June 24, 2022

by Mark D. Godley, Lora L. Passetti, Brooke D. Hunter, Beth Ann Griffin

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In a recently published randomized controlled trial (RCT) of Volunteer Recovery Support for Adolescents (VRSA), a secondary finding indicated that better adherence to planned VRSA telephone session frequency resulted in significantly higher remission rates relative to lower session adherence. However, interpretation of this dose-response relationship may have been confounded by participant characteristics such as baseline levels of substance use and mental health problems.


The present study used statistical methods designed to approximate RCTs when comparing more than two nonequivalent groups that include an assessment of the potential impact of omitted variables. Classification and Regression Tree (CRT) analysis was used to establish the cut-point between high (H) and low (L) VRSA dosage groups. Because we were interested in generalizing to youth with poor attendance, the L-VRSA group served as the reference group. Balancing weights for H-VRSA and a services as usual (SAU) control group were calculated to ensure similarity of baseline pretreatment characteristics to the reference group, and sensitivity of findings to unobserved confounding variables was assessed.


Findings suggested that superior remission rates at the end of the intervention phase were the result of high adherence to planned VRSA session frequency. Recommendations to achieve high VRSA participation among a larger segment of youth and to test whether longer VRSA duration improves the stability of recovery outcomes are provided.


Few published dose-response studies have adequately controlled for selection confounds from both observed and unobserved confounding. As such, the present study aims to both assess the impact of different dosage levels of VRSA and provide a template for how to apply state-of-the-art statistical methods designed to approximate randomized controlled trials to such studies.

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