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At a Glance


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Project Time Frame:




National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services

Doctors, clinicians, policymakers, and others concerned with substance abuse treatment need a mechanism for quantifying the dynamic character and composition of the treatment delivery system in the United States. The National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS) survey collects information about substance abuse programs and facility characteristics to profile the places offering services, services being offered, and number of clients receiving services. These data are also used to annually update the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) Online Locator and National Directory of Substance Abuse Treatment Service Facilities.

Mathematica worked with SAMHSA to redesign the questionnaire and data collection procedures for the survey that became N-SSATS. We conducted the survey annually from 1997 to 2009.  

We implemented new and innovative techniques to increase response rates and collect data more efficiently during each phase of the annual, multimode survey. In the first year we ran this survey of about 18,000 substance abuse treatment facilities, we improved the response rate to 89 percent; the following year, we achieved a response rate of 93 percent. From 1999 to 2009, our response rates were 94 percent or higher each year. In 2008, we pilot tested an approach suggested by facilities that involved prepopulating certain factual fields with responses from the previous year’s survey. Over the years, we also introduced paperless editing for email questionnaires and incorporated randomized experiments to test the effectiveness of such procedures as error-prompting on web questionnaires.

As a result of the continued success of N-SSATS, SAMHSA is modeling other establishment surveys after this one. Annual surveys of this magnitude are challenging, because three different surveys are happening at certain points—last year’s survey is being completed while this year’s survey is under way and next year’s is being planned. To stay on schedule and build a good working relationship, we contacted representatives in each state at the start of the annual cycle to update them, solicit help and ideas, and talk about how to tailor data collection to suit their special needs.