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The committee expressed concern that access to critical prevalence datasets was unreasonably restricted.It recommended, for example, that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) work out arrangements along the lines developed by the National Center for Educational Statistics to allow researchers to work with restricted datasets in a way that preserves confidentiality but still allows full utilization of the data.Over the past 25 years, governments at all levels have made great efforts to reduce drug use in the United States.
In some cases, such data are used to produce point estimates of some quantities, such as annual U. cocaine consumption, that are known to severely understate the true figures.
In other cases, comparisons are made about drug use behaviors among sociodemographic groups with very different response rates and that do not have internal validity.
It is important that policy makers and the public be aware of systematic limitations and potential biases when these data are used.
In addition, it would be helpful to policy makers and analysts if the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other agencies would provide more extensive, explicit, and accessible guidance regarding the known limitations of existing data that might otherwise be miscommunicated or misused.
Both policy analysis and social science research require the ability to systematically link such data with a rich set of variables regarding personal circumstances, public policies, and individual encounters with social service systems.
NSDUH (and its predecessor, NHSDA) have operationalized key variables in ways that undermine comparability with other available data and that are not always consistent over time.NSDUH is now one of the largest annual surveys of the household population conducted by the federal government, with approximately 67,000 respondents in 2007, and it represents several methodological improvements over its predecessor, the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse (NHSDA).These improvements have increased response rates and likely also improved data quality.For example, even the most basic numbers for policy purposes—estimates of the number of chronic users of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine; the quantity used; and the amount spent purchasing them—have not been published for almost a decade (Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2001).In this chapter we offer recommendations for data collection and research activities, both epidemiology and treatment research, that might enable the government to respond effectively to the continued demand for illegal drugs.The number of people incarcerated for drug offenses on any given day has risen from less than 50,000 in the early 1980s to about 500,000 in 2005, including many held in local jails (Caulkins and Chandler, 2006).Treatment has expanded substantially, and much has been learned about what constitutes effective treatment.Although we reaffirm the earlier recommendations regarding NSDUH, the committee finds that this important survey and others used to monitor substance abuse have some important weaknesses from a policy-making perspective.NSDUH was designed and is mainly used to provide descriptive information on basic trends and correlates of illegal drug use.We start by noting that the report of a prior committee of the National Research Council (2001) made numerous recommendations for strengthening the federal data collection effort.That committee concluded, for example, that there was a dearth of data on consumption (as opposed to prevalence) and that this topic deserved high priority.