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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us
oped to supplement the data collected in the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse and Monitoring the Future in order to obtain adequate coverage of subpopulations with high rates of drug use.
Second, the chronic problem in survey research of inaccurate response is particularly acute in surveys of drug abuse, since illegal drug use is a stigmatized behavior and respondents are reluctant to report it accurately. Without a better estimate of inaccurate response, researchers and policy makers can not be confident in the inferences drawn from existing data monitoring illegal drug use. The committee is encouraged by a recent project to evaluate inaccurate response in the NHSDA, but this project is only a first step. The committee strongly recommends a systematic and rigorous research program (1) to understand and monitor inaccurate response in the national use surveys and (2) to develop methods to reduce reporting errors to the extent possible.
Third, longitudinal data—examining a set of variables in the same subjects or population over time—regarding causes and patterns of drug use, the effects of drug use on behavior, and the effects of policies on drug use are critical to an assessment of drug policy. Existing data that are federally supported in the Monitoring the Future survey have not been shared with the research community because of unresolved problems of protecting the confidentiality of such data. Therefore, the quality of the data cannot be assessed objectively, nor can judgments about whether to collect additional longitudinal data be made. In the committee’s judgment, these data must be made available to the broader research and policy community. The committee recommends that the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the granting agency (currently the National Institute on Drug Abuse) establish an oversight committee of statisticians and other experts, knowledgeable in procedures for balancing the needs for public access with the goal of confidentiality, to establish guidelines for providing access and for monitoring whether access to the data is quickly and easily provided.
Prevention of Drug Use
Prevention encompasses an array of noncoercive activities intended to prevent, reduce, or delay illegal drug use. The committee reviewed the research literature on the effectiveness of a wide range of prevention activities and found mixed results. Some prevention activities appear to be effective at delaying the initiation or reducing the frequency of marijuana use, as well as tobacco and alcohol use by minors. However, because most evaluations are of school-based approaches, the success of many other approaches is unknown. Popular programs, such as “zero tolerance” strategies, have not been evaluated at all, or as in the case of