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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us
sufficiently large samples to answer questions about variation from place to place or from time to time, the data for local areas generally are not collated and reported for use by public health authorities in the local areas, at the state level, or nationally. The exceptions are to be found in occasional local area reports in the Community Epidemiology Work Group publications.
In contrast, the nation has developed a quite refined capacity for early warning of infectious disease epidemics and health-related conditions and events captured by the CDC’s routine surveillance networks. To some extent, the success of these surveillance networks and their provision of information that is useful in guidance of public health action rests on state-level regulations and laws about notifiable diseases and conditions, including sensitive conditions such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV/ AIDS, with due attention to confidentiality and privacy of the case reports. Nonetheless, even when the conditions are not mandated as notifiable conditions, the CDC surveillance network has demonstrated its capacity to detect and to disrupt epidemics as they occur.
Development of the nation’s capacity to detect outbreaks and epidemics of drug-taking at an early stage can have the benefit of careful study of the surveillance systems developed for other health-related conditions. The report of the CDC steering committee provides an overview of principles and procedures for creation of an integrated public health information and surveillance system. Illegal drug use and its associated hazards do not appear to have been considered explicitly by the CDC steering committee. The committee recommends that the Office for National Drug Control Policy and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention undertake to develop principles and procedures for information and surveillance systems on illegal drug-taking and its associated hazards.
DATA ON DRUG PRICES
Data on prices of illegal drugs are important for many drug policy studies. Analyses of price levels and price changes provide information about the effects of policy interventions and market forces that influence the supply of and demand for drugs. For example, a policy action that increases the price of an illegal drug (possibly an increase in legal penalties for selling it) may greatly reduce use of the drug if the demand for it is sensitive to price (highly elastic) but not if the demand is insensitive to price (inelastic). Consequently, estimates of price elasticities of demand and of price changes in response to policy interventions are important components of cost-effectiveness analyses of alternative approaches to reducing drug use. Price data are also used in studies of the effectiveness