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June 30, 2017

Disconcerting data reminder of why drug use (and thus drug crime) is so hard to track and assess

Though told mostly as a public health data story, this new post at FiveThirtyEight also struck me as a criminal justice data story as well.  The lengthy piece by Kathryn Casteel is headlined "Data On Drug Use Is Disappearing Just When We Need It Most," and here is how it starts:

It’s no secret that heroin has become an epidemic in the United States. Heroin overdose deaths have risen more than sixfold in less than a decade and a half. Yet according to one of the most widely cited sources of data on drug use, the number of Americans using heroin has risen far more slowly, roughly doubling during the same time period.

Most major researchers believe that source, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, vastly understates the increase in heroin use. But many rely on the survey anyway for a simple reason: It’s the best data they have. Several other sources that researchers once relied on are no longer being updated or have become more difficult to access. The lack of data means researchers, policymakers and public health workers are facing the worst U.S. drug epidemic in a generation without essential information about the nature of the problem or its scale.

“We’re simply flying blind when it comes to data collection, and it’s costing lives,” said John Carnevale, a drug policy expert who served at the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy under both Republican and Democratic administrations. There is anecdotal evidence of how patterns of drug use are changing, Carnevale said, and special studies conducted in various localities are identifying populations of drug users. “But the national data sets we have in place now really don’t give us the answers that we need,” he said.

June 30, 2017 at 08:58 AM | Permalink

Comments

For crime, the only statistic that can be trusted is the murder rate, since it's hard to hide a body.

For drugs, the reliable statistic that can't be fudged is street price. If interdiction was working we'd see increasing prices. In fact prices are dropping while purity increases. Another valuable datum is concentration of drug metabolites in sewage.

That these reliable and difficult-to-spin statistics are not widely published speaks volumes about the goals and seriousness of the drug warriors.

Posted by: Boffin | Jun 30, 2017 1:19:46 PM

Boffin. Hard to hide a body?

Do you make anything of the 100,000 unresolved missing persons cases a year?

Posted by: David Behar | Jun 30, 2017 2:23:18 PM

NY Times Addiction Article Reports an Important Study

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/30/opinion/sunday/what-cookies-and-meth-have-in-common.html

Ignore the left wing, big government, redistributionist propaganda. However, this study is important. Environment can alter dopamine levels in both directions.


Key point:


Michael Nader at the Wake Forest School of Medicine showed this in a study of monkeys and cocaine. When monkeys are moved from an individual cage and housed in a group, some become dominant and others assume a submissive role. For those that become dominant — meaning they get more attention, more grooming and more access to food and treats — this is a positive change. They now have more D2 dopamine receptors and are less interested in self-administering cocaine. But for submissive animals, the group setting is a stressful change, and they respond by increasing their use of cocaine.


Strikingly, the effect of environment is easily reversible: Stress the dominant monkey by returning it to a solo cage and its D2 receptors will drop — and its taste for cocaine will increase. In other words, simply by changing the environment, you can increase or decrease the likelihood of an animal becoming a drug addict.

The challenge is to translate this effect into treatment tactics for addiction rehab.

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 2, 2017 2:11:57 PM

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