Cover: Drug Use Measures

Drug Use Measures

What are They Really Telling Us?

Published 2000

by Peter Reuter

Purchase Print Copy

Add to Cart Paperback7 pages Free

Available indicators on drug use tell a confusing story. Although surveys show that drug use has declined in the general population since 1980, direct measures of use, such as the number of drug-related deaths, have been increasing steadily. The extent of the nation's drug problems cannot be measured by estimating the number of persons using illicit drugs. General surveys mask a considerable change in drug-use patterns. Analysis and reconciliation of various indicators, along with a solid understanding of patterns of use, can reveal differences among segments of the population and can help to distinguish among, for example, the teenage marijuana user, the occasional user of cocaine, and the crack cocaine- or heroin-dependent person for whom drug use is a career rather than an event. It can also help policymakers and community leaders tailor drug prevention and reduction programs to particular audiences — high school students, criminal offenders, or particular age or racial groups.

Originally published in: National Institute of Justice Journal, April 1999, pp. 13-19.

This report is part of the RAND reprint series. The Reprint was a product of RAND from 1992 to 2011 that represented previously published journal articles, book chapters, and reports with the permission of the publisher. RAND reprints were formally reviewed in accordance with the publisher's editorial policy and compliant with RAND's rigorous quality assurance standards for quality and objectivity. For select current RAND journal articles, see External Publications.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.