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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us
Each of the data collections is built on an infrastructure consisting of its professional staff, survey researchers (who in this area are mostly contractors or grantees), and analysts. They rely on the cooperation of respondents, schools, hospitals, treatment facilities, medical examiners, and the criminal justice system. In the committee’s judgment, regular professional and impartial reporting would greatly increase the cooperation of these key participants in the statistical processes that provide key indicators.
The ultimate goal of the recommendations in this chapter is to improve the quality and usefulness of the data so that they can better serve public understanding and policy making on illegal drugs. The central point of this chapter is that the substantive recommendations in this report cannot be implemented without improvements in the practices of statistical agencies and a consolidation of the federal effort along with determined leadership to implement these organizational improvements.
The scope of this chapter is limited to a review of the adequacy of the organizational structures for the collection, analysis, and reporting of statistical data on illegal drugs. This means that we are considering how to improve the quality and timeliness of data, for example, on the price or total consumption of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. We do not consider the organizational issues involved in research on illegal drugs, such as how to best determine the relationship between interdiction and use or between crime and drug laws. Producing high-quality statistical data is a prerequisite for empirically informed research, but only data needs are considered here.
UPGRADING INDEPENDENCE AND PROFESSIONALISM
Regardless of the organizational structure of data collection on illegal drugs, it is essential that the federal government set a goal of protecting and strengthening the statistical reporting practices, independence, and scientific integrity of organizations charged with collecting the data. This section presents some principles that can serve as guidelines for ensuring that the institutional structure of agencies that collect and report drug data reflects the best practices for statistical agencies and is conducive to the collection of high-quality data. They apply both to existing agencies and to any new or consolidated agencies that might be created in the future.
A critical part of the process of improving the value of data and research on illegal drugs for policy purposes is to ensure that the agencies that collect the data have the resources, independence, and professional staff to engage in the range of activities necessary for producing high-quality data collection and statistical reports. The federal government has