Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Drug Czar's Office Explains Why It Omitted Alcohol Data From Drug and Crime Report

Drug Czar's Office Explains Why It Omitted Alcohol Data From Drug and Crime Report:
In response to two blog posts and several
Tweets asking why a recent report on the "link" between crime and
drugs omitted data regarding alcohol consumption, the White House
Office of National Drug Control Policy tonight
its decision to withhold said data, why it feels the
data wasn't significant enough to include, and where interested
parties can find said data in the raw (short answer: at the moment,
they actually can't).
Background: I first queried ONDCP Communications Director Rafael
Lemaitre on Friday
after I noticed
that a report the ONDCP released on
Thursday--the 2012 Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Annual
Report--included a question about alcohol use, but no data
reflecting the answers. Answers to questions about illicit drug
consumption, meanwhile, were dutifully reflected in tables.
Lemaitre responded by accusing me of
peddling a conspiracy theory
. In response, I sent him a
screenshot from the methodology section of the report with the
germane question about alcohol
circled in red
. He then tried to tell me that the data wasn't
relevant, and when I insisted on seeing it regardless, he ignored
me. That was Friday. Today,
I wrote a follow-up
. Tonight,
Lemaitre published a response on the ONDCP blog
Last week, we released the 2012 Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring
Annual Report (ADAM II), a long running study that reveals the
percentage of arrestees in certain U.S. cities/counties testing
positive for at least one illegal drug at the time of
arrest....Typically, however, the annual ADAM report does not
include findings about alcohol use. Why? Here are three
1. Simply put, the nexus between alcohol use and crime is
already well documented....Moreover, there are already many other
surveys that compare rates of legal drug use to illegal drug
use....What’s harder to investigate, however, are emerging trends
in illegal drug use – which fluctuate and shift more widely
compared to alcohol - at the local level, and among a highly
transient, often homeless criminal justice population.
2. The ADAM II study doesn’t test arrestees for alcohol in the
first place. One of the primary characteristics that make the ADAM
II survey unique is that it collects bioassay data (urinalysis)
from arrestees within 48 hours of arrest (as opposed to larger
surveys such as NSDUH that rely solely on a questionnaire). Since
ADAM II only tests for certain illegal drugs (marijuana, cocaine,
opiates, amphetamines/methamphetamine, Darvon, PCP,
benzodiazepines, methadone, and barbiturates), there are no data on
positive alcohol results to report in the study.
As part of the data collection process, some questions are asked
about alcohol use, but since the focus of the annual report is on
the drug test results, the findings from the alcohol questions are
not included in the report. However, in keeping with the scientific
principles of transparency and accessibility and Administration
policy, ONDCP makes the complete ADAM II raw data file available to
researchers so they can conduct their own analyses. These raw data
are available for previous years of ADAM data collection through
the University of Michigan’s Inter-University Consortium for
Political and Social Research (ICPSR), a data warehouse used by
many Federal agencies to make their data available to the research
community. (Users must first register with the ICPSR and sign a
user’s agreement, and more recent years data will be available
there soon).
3. The primary focus of ONDCP is to reduce illegal drug use and
its consequences. A component of the Executive Office of the
President, ONDCP was created by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988
(you can read our Congressional authorization here). Accordingly,
ONDCP’s primary mission has focused on efforts to reduce illicit
drug use, manufacturing and trafficking, drug-related crime and
violence, and drug-related health consequences.
Lemaitre continues to insist that because researchers did not
test arrestee urine for alcohol, the number of arrestees who had
five drinks or more in a sitting in the previous three, seven, and
30 days, as well as the last 12 months, is irrelevant. If that's
the case, why did the firm the ONDCP contract with ask that
The truth is that despite its narrow mandate, the ONDCP talks
about alcohol quite a bit. On the same ONDCP blog where Lemaitre
responded to my questions, there's
a post instructing people to provide non-alcoholic drinks to guests
at their Christmas parties
; meanwhile, searching the White
House site for alcohol and the ONDCP
returns more than 16,000 results
The ONDCP is more than happy to talk about booze when it's
talking about recovery and treatment; but including data about
alcohol consumption--data the ONDCP requested--in a report
linking illicit drug use to crime would have been
And don't get me started on the fact that to get said data, you
have to go to a third party, where you can only download raw data
from as recently as 2010.