ADAM II Report and Alcohol

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. Because of the significant impact on public health and safety (in 2007 alone, illegal drugs were responsible for over $193 billion in lost productivity, health, and criminal justice costs) this survey has long served as a vital asset for officials at both the local and national levels.  Typically, however, the annual ADAM report does not include findings about alcohol use.  Why?  Here are three reasons:

1. Simply put, the nexus between alcohol use and crime is already well documented. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone – particularly in the criminal justice research community - who would dispute the long established link between the use of a widely available, legal drug like alcohol and crime.  Moreover, there are already many other surveys that compare rates of legal drug use to illegal drug use - most notably the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the Nation’s premiere general population survey.  (Here’s a chart showing rates of legal drug use vs. illegal drug use using NSDUH data).

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. How does meth use among arrestees in Sacramento compare to Chicago? Is cocaine use falling or rising among arrestees in each of the five sites measured by ADAM II? How does opiate use among arrestees in Atlanta compare to New York? These are the types of questions ADAM II is designed to investigate. 

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.  

As part of our commitment to science-based drug policy, we welcome conversation about our research. The ADAM II survey has been a valuable tool for our office, and we encourage anyone with an interest in its findings to take a look.  

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