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Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us
these samples and to make the required linkages across datasets. With respect to the planning of future samples, a mechanism could be created to promote more deliberate linkages of data sources, rather than leave this linkage up to chance. Three possibilities are outlined below.
Linking Federal, State, and Local Data Systems. In its 1993 evaluation of drug use surveys, the U.S. General Accounting Office weighed how to effectively measure use at the state and local level, concluding that there are no obvious solutions. Its report found that the NHSDA would be “an expensive tool and would not constitute a useful indicator of some of the more serious drug use problems” and recommended that it should continue to be used to provide national prevalence estimates but not state-level estimates. This recommendation notwithstanding, the NHSDA sample size was subsequently increased in an effort to produce reliable state-level estimates.
There are in place several federally coordinated systems of state-administered data on illegal drugs that might usefully be studied as models.7 The Drug and Alcohol Services Information System of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration is compiled from information provided by state substance abuse agencies. The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment sponsors State Needs Assessment Studies, conducted by selected state substance abuse agencies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collaborates with state health agencies to collect sensitive data in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The National Drug Intelligence Center links law enforcement intelligence data on drugs, gangs, and violence from nearly 15 federal agencies, and the Regional Information Sharing System integrates data from state and local law enforcement agencies (see Charles, 2000, for further details). In addition to these federally coordinated efforts, there are several states that have developed their own systems of linking data from multiple in-state sources. For example, California and Washington have such systems.
Linking NHSDA with Offender Databases. It has sometimes been suggested that the NHSDA data be linked with ADAM and with surveys of prison populations by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in an effort to produce national estimates that appropriately cover the high-risk subpopulation of offenders. The feasibility of such linkages is not yet clear and should be investigated. ADAM, after all, is a survey of events (ar-