Measuring the Use of Drugs

Measuring the Use of Drugs

Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. (Winter 2003). "Measuring the Use of Drugs." Alaska Justice Forum 19(4): 5. The ADAM program discussed in this issue of the Forum is one of several national projects collecting data on the extent of drug use. It is also one of the few instruments regularly administered in Alaska under either state or federal auspices that provides any localized information on drug use. This article describes the federal government's three other major drug use indicators which provide data on a national basis: the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) and Monitoring the Future.

The ADAM program discussed in this issue of the Forum is one of several national projects collecting data on the extent of drug use. It is also one of the few instruments regularly administered in Alaska under either state or federal auspices that provides any localized information on drug use.

In addition to ADAM, the federal government has three other major drug use indicators which provide data on a national basis: the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) and Monitoring the Future.

The NHSDA is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It has been conducted since 1971, with a significant redesign in 1999. Researchers conduct interviews with a national probability sample of persons aged twelve and over on past and current use of a wide range of licit and illicit substances. The NHSDA research design includes Alaska in its sampling. Table 1 shows results from the survey for 1999 and 2000.

Table 1. Estimated Prevalence of Drug and Alchohol Use During Lifetime, U.S., 1000 and 2000

Unlike the NHSDA and ADAM, the other two national data collection efforts do not sample Alaska, although their results still may have implications for the state. DAWN assembles data semi-annually from emergency rooms on deaths from drug abuse and emergency room treatment related to drug abuse. Monitoring the Future, which is sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, surveys high school students on the availability and use of drugs and attitudes toward drug use.

There seems to be no continuing in-state measurement of illicit drug use among the Alaska population, although a number of state agencies have occasionally assembled data which contribute to the picture of drug use as a whole. In particular, in 2002, the Alaska Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse and the Division of Public Health released the results of a state needs assessment study conducted by the North Charles Research and Planning Group of Cambridge, MA. This study focused on determining the substance abuse treatment needs of the state's population. It estimated that nearly 40,000 people may need treatment of some kind for substance abuse. It also found—as have many other studies—that the substance most widely abused in Alaska is alcohol.

Another statewide measurement, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered to high school students by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services assesses health-threatening attitudes and behaviors, including involvement with drugs and alcohol. The survey is part of a national effort conducted since 1990 by the Centers for Disease Control. Because its administration in Alaska has been inconsistent, with some districts—including the large Anchorage School District—not participating at various times, the results have not been comparable from year to year. The 2003 survey is currently underway.

As with much other research, an obstacle to gathering comprehensive data on the extent of drug and alcohol use in the state is the fact that pertinent data lie with many diverse agencies. In general, the data bases of the agencies do not interface with each other, making the assembly of information more laborious and the design of research more problematic.