ADAM in an International Context

ADAM in an International Context

Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. (Winter 2003). "ADAM in an International Context." Alaska Justice Forum 19(4): 2. Under the auspices of the National Institute of Justice, a loosely-organized network of justice researchers and administrators have worked to adapt the standardized methodology developed in the U.S.'s Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program to the needs of justice systems in other nations. NIJ's first comprehensive report on the international ADAM effort (I-ADAM) describes its implementation in Chile, Great Britain, Scotland, the Netherlands, Malaysia, South Africa, Australia and the United States.

Since the late 1990s, researchers from a number of other countries have sought to implement the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) research program within their own systems. Under the auspices of the National Institute of Justice, a loosely-organized network of justice researchers and administrators have worked to adapt the standardized methodology developed in the United States (see "Drug Use Trends Among Anchorage Arrestees: 1999-2001") to the needs of different systems. While, in general, participating countries must provide their own funding for implementing the research, NIJ has facilitated this international effort—I-ADAM—by holding several conferences focused on the exchange of information among those interested in the research platform. While the primary goal of the participating countries has been to use ADAM to learn more about the drug picture in their own countries, another objective has been to broaden the international basis of information on drug use.

The first comprehensive look at this cross-cultural effort, a compendium of reports from eight countries, including the U.S., was released in May 2002. The document, "I-ADAM in Eight Countries—Approaches and Challenges," describes the genesis of the international project in the participating countries—Chile, Great Britain, Scotland, the Netherlands, Malaysia, South Africa, Australia and the United States.

Such formally structured quantitative justice research in an international context has been relatively rare. In the forward to this document, James Finckenauer, who was then director of the International Center of the National Institute of Justice, points out some of the obstacles and pitfalls encountered in comparative justice research—the administrative complexities; the difficulties posed by translating a survey instrument into multiple languages; the varied cultural traditions; and the effect of different criminal justice systems on the implementation of projects. Finckenauer notes, however, that there are compelling reasons for trying to discern patterns of drug use on an international basis: drug use devastates families and community life; the drug market is an international market; and drug money corrupts governments and feeds disorder and war. Monitoring drug usage among arrestees over time, as done with the I-ADAM effort, can inform policy development.

Because not every question on the U.S.-developed interview instrument was applicable or useable in every locale, the country research teams addressed this barrier to gathering comparable data by retaining a set of core questions. Individual countries tailored additional items to fit their own needs. Because urinalysis for drug usage is more easily kept standard from location to location, results from this component of the study presented fewer problems of comparability.

The NIJ report is primarily descriptive, providing an overview of the development and implementation of the project in each country. It also presents limited summary results. Little comparative analysis is done, although one clear finding is noted: marijuana is the drug most commonly used by arrestees in all eight countries.

In most cases project administrators for each country authored the section devoted to that country, with the report forward written by James Finckenauer and a concluding discussion by Henry Brownstein, also with NIJ. The contents of the country sections are somewhat standardized; that is, the same issues are discussed for each country.

The eight countries had different purposes in undertaking the I-ADAM research. This, in fact, is one of the benefits of I-ADAM—that it can provide insights for a range of goals. Most countries, of course, were interested in further understanding the connection between drugs and arrestees in order to better develop their law enforcement programs, but most—some to a greater degree than others—also emphasized the implications of the research for treatment approaches.

The countries have differing research traditions. Some, like the U.S., Britain and the Netherlands have strong, established research programs with regular interaction between government and researchers and with some history of policy makers using research, while others, like Chile and Malaysia, seem to have a more limited history of collecting justice research data for policy purposes.

The descriptions of project implementation hint at widely different histories and cultural attitudes toward policing and law enforcement as well as varying degrees of trust in government agencies. In Chile, for example, where distrust of the police was considered to be a barrier to the project, it was decided that uniformed nurses from the Ministry of Health, which sponsored the program, would collect the urine samples to convince arrestees that the information would not be used against them. In the discussion of Malaysia's project, it was noted that because the police collected urine samples, participation of arrestees might not be voluntary.

Other differences with implications for the research project also emerged. For example, countries made varying arrangements to protect the confidentiality of research results. Australia and England, lacking the statutory provisions ensuring the confidentiality demanded by this type of research, found it necessary to negotiate special assurances for this project. In the Netherlands, the Bar Association required that each participant sign an informed consent form, introducing an element that might have an effect on the response rate.

As mentioned above, the NIJ report does not emphasize the specific data findings of these first I-ADAM efforts, and it warns against making rigid comparisons. Some valid points do emerge, however. An initial overview reveals that marijuana, in one form or another, may be the drug most commonly used by arrestees throughout the world. All countries reporting results, including the U.S., found a high usage of marijuana among arrestees.

Usage patterns particular to individual countries and regions also emerged from these limited results. The South African research showed a sizeable percentage of arrestees testing positive for mandrax—a blend of methaqualone and antihistamine rarely seen in other countries. England noted frequent usage of opiates and Scotland found drug use by injection was prevalent.

One of the major benefits of the NIJ report is that in addition to the presentation of the results from the first I-ADAM efforts, it also contains a rich mine of information on the widely differing law enforcement, legal and judicial systems of the participating countries. The formal structures of individual systems are outlined and, for some countries, background crime and arrest data presented. The individual country drug policies, extent of participation in international drug agreements and legislative histories of drug laws are also presented. Absent from the report—beyond its scope but necessary for a full understanding of the research findings—is a discussion of how political, social and historical realities impact the day-to-day operation of the justice system in the drug arena.

NIJ reports that the number of countries expressing an interest in the ADAM project has grown, but in many cases, even for the eight countries contributing to this initial report, lack of funding is a major barrier to the research.

The report I-ADAM in Eight Countries, NCJ-189768, is available from the National Institute of Justice.