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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us
One area of particular concern is producing price indices and other economic data on illegal drugs. To date, the efforts to construct these data have proceeded without drawing on the expertise of agencies that specialize in price and other economic data, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The procedure described above for developing economic statistics will improve work in this area.
Consideration should be given to using interagency transfer of funds to obtain the services of professional statistical organizations so as to strengthen and extend the professional expertise pool for data collection, review, and analysis.
To maintain adequate resources for the collection of statistics on illegal drugs, policy, research, and operating agencies (such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Justice, and the Drug Enforcement Administration) could retain a role in funding (much as the National Institutes of Health does with the National Center for Health Statistics) and thereby ensure that the capacity to compile data on illegal drugs is maintained. Block grant money and other needed funds should be transferred to the lead statistical agencies using interagency transfers to ensure continuity of funding.
The lead statistical agencies should foster collaboration with drug policy and research agencies to ensure that their work is relevant to clinical and law enforcement needs. Such arrangements are currently in place in other fields. For example National Institute on Child Health and Human Development funds the National Survey of Family Growth. The staff of the National Institutes of Health plays a large role in shaping the survey, yet the statistical lead is assumed by the National Center for Health Statistics.
It is important to maintain the continuity of the professional staffs that currently work on surveys while their work is integrated into the work of the statistical agencies. Alternatively, they could continue to collect data under delegated authority from the statistical agencies, but operating within a framework that emphasizes the independence of statistical operations.
Consolidating the authority to collect and report statistical data on illegal drugs in a very small number of statistical agencies is a long-term goal. It should not be undertaken until these agencies acquire adequate financial resources as well as the requisite professional and technical expertise and staff. In the interim, the committee recommends strengthening the existing organizations for data collection, analysis, and reporting so that they would adhere more closely to appropriate professional standards for statistical units.