Hard to get drug stats

Avon Valley Gazette - - OPINION -

IL­LE­GAL drug use is likely to be about twice as high as fig­ures sug­gest, says a lead re­searcher from Curtin Univer­sity.

Pa­per au­thor Mark Har­ris, of Curtin’s School of Eco­nomics and Fi­nance, said re­searchers were often faced with ex­tremely low recorded par­tic­i­pa­tion rates when try­ing to model, or ex­plain so­cial ‘ bads’ such as il­licit drug use.

“Many peo­ple will have in­cen­tives to un­der- re­port their con­sump­tion in­clud­ing a fear of be­ing caught, stigma and moral con­cerns, so it’s not sen­si­ble to look at raw num­bers and as­sume they ac­cu­rately rep­re­sent what’s go­ing on in the pop­u­la­tion,” Pro­fes­sor Har­ris said.

“In the case of il­le­gal drug use in Aus­tralia, the re­ported par­tic­i­pa­tion rates of 12.2, 3.2 and 1.3 per cent for mar­i­juana, am­phet­a­mines and co­caine re­spec­tively, mask true par­tic­i­pa­tion rates which are es­ti­mated to be al­most dou­ble for mar­i­juana ( 23 per cent), and more than dou­ble for am­phet­a­mines ( 8 per cent) and co­caine ( 5 per cent).”

He said the like­li­hood of a user mis­re­port­ing us­age was ‘ a stag­ger­ing 65 per cent for co­caine, 31 per cent for mar­i­juana and 17 per cent for am­phet­a­mines’ and in­ac­cu­rate es­ti­mates of the preva­lence of cer­tain be­hav­iours could lead to sig­nif­i­cant im­pli­ca­tions if poorly- in­formed data was used to de­ter­mine pol­icy- mak­ing or fund­ing al­lo­ca­tion.

“The widespread use of data col­lected from in­di­vid­ual and house­hold- level sur­veys by re­searchers and pol­icy mak­ers is clearly re­liant on re­spon­dents sup­ply­ing ac­cu­rate and re­li­able in­for­ma­tion,” he said.

“It is ap­par­ent the short­com­ings of this type of data should there­fore be well un­der­stood in or­der to make ap­pro­pri­ate pol­icy or health fund­ing de­ci­sions.”

The pa­per, Mod­el­ling Il­le­gal Drug Par­tic­i­pa­tion, pub­lished in the jour­nal of The Royal Sta­tis­ti­cal So­ci­ety, can be viewed at http:// on­lineli­brary. wi­ley. com/ doi/ 10.1111/ rssa. 12252/ full.

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