is unaware of any effort that is under way in the federal government or elsewhere to develop methods for collecting price data on illegal drugs.15The committee recommends that work be started to develop methods for improving existing data and acquiring more reliable drug price data.
The committee has not attempted to design a method for gathering price data. However, we do offer a suggestion as a starting point for further investigation of the best way to acquire price data that would be suitable for economic and other policy analyses.
It may be possible to carry out a survey in which randomly sampled individuals in one or more cities are asked the price of their last drug purchase (if any), the date of the purchase, the name of the drug, and the quantity purchased. As in ADAM, the quantity would be specified in informal terms such as bags, vials, lines, etc. Alternatively, randomly sampled individuals could be asked to keep diary records of their purchases over some period of time. The survey would be designed to reach high-risk groups, such as homeless people as well as those currently reached by surveys such as the NHSDA. Respondents would be assured of confidentiality and that their responses will not put them in legal jeopardy.
In addition, arrangements would be made for professional buyers to make purchases of drugs. The prices paid would be recorded and the purchased material sent to a laboratory for determination of the quantity (in grams) and purity of the purchased material. The professional buyers would be provided with immunity from arrest while making purchases. The information thus acquired would make it possible to estimate quantity and purity conditional on the informal description of quantity purchased (bag, vials, lines, etc.), the price paid, and the city in which the purchase was made.
The committee notes that providing professional buyers with immunity from arrest requires significant changes in existing policies of law
Some surveys of drug users include questions about recent expenditures on drugs. The survey of the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (ADAM) is an example. The information obtained in such surveys cannot be used to estimate drug prices, however. The most important reason is that the surveys of which the committee is aware do not provide quantitative information on the quantity and purity of the purchased drug. ADAM, for example, asks no questions about purity. Although respondents have the option of providing quantitative information on the quantity purchased, they are also permitted to use informal terms such as “bag,” “balloon,” “foil packet,” “rock,” and “line” that do not have precise quantitative equivalents. In addition, ADAM surveys only arrestees, who are not necessarily representative of the entire population of drug users in the cities that participate in the ADAM program. The National Household Survey of Drug Abuse does not ask questions about expenditures on drugs.