Types of research
There are two categories of research that are of particular importance in the development and implementation of national drug policy. Operational research is aimed at better understanding of factors affecting drug use, and identifying the best methods of selecting, procuring, distributing and using drugs. Its results help to identify and implement practical and cost-effective measures, and should underpin management decisions. Drug research and development includes a broad range of activities, including research into new drugs, drugs for neglected infectious diseases, new dosage forms and manufacturing processes; basic research in chemistry and molecular biology; and clinical and field trials of drugs and vaccines.
Research as a component of a national drug policy
Operational research facilitates the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of different aspects of drug policy. It is an essential tool in assessing the impact of the drug policy on health service systems and delivery, in studying the economics of drug supply, in identifying problems related to prescribing and dispensing, and in understanding the socio-cultural aspects of drug use. It is one of the key ways of identifying which measures work and whether they are being implemented effectively. Operational research is needed at all levels of the health service in both industrialized and developing countries, and should be included in every national drug policy.
On the other hand, the capacity of countries to undertake drug research and development varies enormously. It is important that countries assess their capacity and consider carefully whether they can usefully be involved in drug research and development, and if so, what their priorities should be.
Probably the most important challenge is that most health workers and policymakers, and even many staff members of academic institutions, have no time for operational research and are often not really interested in it. Having an open mind to the results of operational research also implies a critical attitude and a willingness to change. The second challenge is that when operational research is finally done, its results are often not fully used to improve strategies and prepare or adapt action plans. For this reason operational research studies should always be developed and carried out in close collaboration with policy-makers. Governments may need to fund such research, in order to ensure that it is undertaken.