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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us
Chapter 2 of this report summarizes the state of knowledge about the determinants of use of illegal drugs, and the consequences for users and society. This chapter is not concerned with drug control policy per se. Rather, it provides basic background for consideration of policy.
Data for Monitoring Drug Problems
A second major decision was to choose the types of data to consider in depth. The committee decided to focus substantial attention on data regularly collected by the federal government, which are widely used to monitor the nation’s drug problems. Two annual population surveys, the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse (NHSDA) and Monitoring the Future (MTF), form the country’s main sources of information on trends and cross-sectional patterns in drug use. The government also supports regular data collection on the drug use of persons who experience certain events—including arrest, incarceration, and hospital emergency room treatment. The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program collects drug use data on arrestees; various Bureau of Justice Statistics surveys collect such information on prisoners; and the Drug Abuse Warning Network collects information on hospital emergency room visits related to drug use.
The Drug Enforcement Administration’s System to Retrieve Information from Drug Evidence (STRIDE) is the main existing source of information on drug prices. These and other data collection activities of the federal government provide the primary descriptive information that policy makers and the public presently use to gauge the overall dimensions of the nation’s drug problems. These data collection systems are described and evaluated in detail in Chapter 3.
The committee views accurate description of trends and cross-sectional patterns in drug use, prices, and other relevant variables as essential to informed development of drug control policy. Hence the committee decided not only to scrutinize the various data collection systems now in place but also to consider principles for regular collection of drug-related data in the federal statistical system. We examine the various data collection systems in Chapter 3 and make recommendations for the federal statistical system in Chapter 4.
This report focuses on the structure of the various data collection systems, not their findings. The annual report on the National Drug Control Strategy of the Office of National Drug Control Policy draws on these data sources in an effort to provide a comprehensive portrait of drug problems in the United States.