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Intention-to-treat analyses and missing data approaches in pharmacotherapy trials for alcohol use disorders.

Del Re AC, Maisel NC, Blodgett JC, Finney JW. Intention-to-treat analyses and missing data approaches in pharmacotherapy trials for alcohol use disorders. BMJ open. 2013 Nov 12; 3(11):e003464.

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OBJECTIVES: Intention to treat (ITT) is an analytic strategy for reducing potential bias in treatment effects arising from missing data in randomised controlled trials (RCTs). Currently, no universally accepted definition of ITT exists, although many researchers consider it to require either no attrition or a strategy to handle missing data. Using the reports of a large pool of RCTs, we examined discrepancies between the types of analyses that alcohol pharmacotherapy researchers stated they used versus those they actually used. We also examined the linkage between analytic strategy (ie, ITT or not) and how missing data on outcomes were handled (if at all), and whether data analytic and missing data strategies have changed over time. DESIGN: Descriptive statistics were generated for reported and actual data analytic strategy and for missing data strategy. In addition, generalised linear models determined changes over time in the use of ITT analyses and missing data strategies. PARTICIPANTS: 165 RCTs of pharmacotherapy for alcohol use disorders. RESULTS: Of the 165 studies, 74 reported using an ITT strategy. However, less than 40% of the studies actually conducted ITT according to the rigorous definition above. Whereas no change in the use of ITT analyses over time was found, censored (last follow-up completed) and imputed missing data strategies have increased over time, while analyses of data only for the sample actually followed have decreased. CONCLUSIONS: Discrepancies in reporting versus actually conducting ITT analyses were found in this body of RCTs. Lack of clarity regarding the missing data strategy used was common. Consensus on a definition of ITT is important for an adequate understanding of research findings. Clearer reporting standards for analyses and the handling of missing data in pharmacotherapy trials and other intervention studies are needed.

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