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Defining “Evidence-based”

Knowing what it means for a program to be “evidence-based” helps practitioners choose interventions with the greatest potential to prevent substance misuse.

In their 2009 guidance document Identifying and Selecting Evidence-Based Interventions for Substance Abuse Prevention, SAMHSA defines evidence-based interventions as those that fall into one or more of three categories:

1. The intervention is included in a federal registry of evidence-based interventions OR

2. The intervention produced positive effects on the primary targeted outcome, and these findings are reported in a peer-reviewed journal OR

3. The intervention has documented evidence of effectiveness, based on guidelines developed by the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and/or the state, tribe, or jurisdiction in which the intervention took place. Documented evidence should be implemented under four recommended guidelines, all of which must be followed. These guidelines require interventions to be:

  • Based on a theory of change that is documented in a clear logic or conceptual mode AND
  • Similar in content and structure to interventions that appear in federal registries of evidence-based interventions and/or peer-reviewed journals AND
  • Supported by documentation showing it has been effectively implemented in the past, multiple times, and in a manner attentive to scientific standards of evidence. The intervention results should show a consistent pattern of credible and positive effects. AND
  • Reviewed and deemed appropriate by a panel of informed prevention experts that includes qualified prevention researchers experienced in evaluating prevention interventions similar to those under review; local prevention professionals; and key community leaders, as appropriate (for example, law enforcement officials, educators, or elders within indigenous cultures).

Interventions with proven track records are more likely to produce the positive effects you hope to achieve. However, it’s not enough that an intervention is evidence-based. It’s equally important that the selected intervention is the right “fit” for your community. Being the right fit means that the intervention can effectively address the risk or protective factors associated with your priority problem, and that you have the resources and readiness to support its implementation.

Learn more about conceptual and practical fit.

Last Updated: 09/07/2018