drug problems. A full chapter of this report (Chapter 4) examines this question.

Present-Oriented and Forward-Looking Analysis of Drug Policy

Early in its deliberations, the committee found it essential to distinguish between two senses, one present-oriented and the other forward-looking, in which data and research can inform drug policy. We recognize that an analysis may be of value to decision makers today if it makes the best use it can of whatever data are currently available in order to furnish advice or reach conclusions about actions that must be taken now, before better data can be gathered and interpreted. The premises of such an analysis should be explicit, and the logic that links its steps should be transparent. Its conclusions should appropriately convey the uncertainty that is inevitable given the limitations of the existing data. But more than this should not be asked of it.

Our report looks mainly to the future. The committee has been asked to explore how new data might enable research that yields much more definitive assessments of drug policy than are possible at present. It may take several years, a decade, or more to gather and interpret crucial data that are now unavailable—during which policy makers must continue to make do as they have in the past. But in the longer run, a sustained and systematic effort to develop firm empirical foundations for drug policy is necessary if the nation is to have any hope of improving the quality of its decision making.

It makes no sense to continue to argue about drug policy for additional decades, as we have so often in the past, in terms of plausible but unverified assumptions about the nature of drug production, distribution, and use. If society is to make wiser decisions in the years ahead, we must now decide on a strategy to identify the critical empirical questions for drug policy and take the steps needed to answer these questions. Initiating this process is the important task addressed in this report.


Institute of Medicine 1990 Treating Drug Problems, Volume 1. Committee for the Substance Abuse Coverage Study. Dean Gerstein and Henrick J.Harwood, editors. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Office of National Drug Control Policy 2000 National Drug Control Strategy: Budget Summary February 2000. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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