Say What? "Clinical Trial"

female scientist looking in microscope


Have you ever wondered where medicines and other medical treatments come from? A lot of steps are involved, and one of those steps is usually a clinical trial.

A clinical trial is a research study that involves people (not animals) and is designed to show how well a medicine or treatment works. People who volunteer to participate in a clinical trial work closely with the researchers leading the study. “Clinical” comes from the word “clinic,” a place where people receive medical care.

Real-world insights

There are different types of clinical trials. The type used depends on the treatment a researcher wants to test. For instance, a clinical trial for a possible new medicine could give some people a placebo (a fake pill) to compare results with people who received the real pill.  

In some cases, volunteers might benefit from participating in a clinical trial. For example, someone with a medical condition might volunteer in hopes of finding a more effective treatment—maybe even a cure—for their condition. In other cases, healthy people volunteer to help researchers test medicines for safety.

For people who have problems with substance use, clinical trials can help to tailor safe and effective treatments for a specific type of addiction, like heroin or cocaine use or prescription opioid misuse.

Safety first

Before researchers start a clinical trial, they have to complete many steps to prove it’s safe to try a possible treatment with people.

Researchers also are required to protect the study volunteers from harm. There are strict rules to follow, and a doctor is always standing by. The government requires researchers to take great caution to ensure all volunteers are treated ethically and safely.

NIDA conducts clinical trials around the country. To learn how a clinical trial at NIDA helped someone with opioid addiction, check out Lorrie’s story.

Learn more: What’s the big deal about data?

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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