March 10 2014
This commentary appeared on USA Today on March 8, 2014.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death has prompted a lot of discussion about heroin in recent weeks. Heroin statistics from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) have fueled the debate, but they may be leading us astray.
The NSDUH, a federally-funded general population survey of approximately 70,000 people, is a wonderful tool for understanding tobacco, alcohol and marijuana use. It can also provide useful information about how many people used other drugs in the past year.
However, it is patently ill-suited for tracking heroin use, let alone abuse or dependence on heroin and other hard drugs like crack and methamphetamine. Unfortunately, due to budget concerns the federal government (PDF) just shut down a critical data source that provides insights into these problems: The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program or ADAM.