DAWN and ADAM. Odds are you’ve never heard of them. They’re not people. They’re acronyms for Drug Abuse Warning Network and Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring. DAWN is a national public health surveillance program which gathers data from people who are treated at emergency care facilities for drug overdoses. ADAM gathers data from law enforcement agencies, from urinalysis of suspected drug users.
A new study pretty much says DAWN and ADAM are way off the mark.
Scientists in Oregon studied untreated wastewater at nearly a hundred different municipal sewer systems across the state, and concluded illicit drug use was much higher and far more widespread than anybody ever thought.
There were a few findings which weren’t really surprising. More meth was detected in rural areas than in urban areas, and more cocaine and X were found in urban locations.
Sound familiar, ‘sconnies?
The big federally-funded studies, like the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, are essentially useless. They rely on responses to questionnaires, with huge under-reporting of drug use, and they miss many of the people who are likely to be drug users. They don’t take surveys.
Drug epidemiologists are excited about the Oregon study, because untreated wastewater doesn’t lie, and it contains the metabolites of everything we ingest, including all “legal” and “illegal” drugs. And it catches all the high-risk populations that surveys, arrests, and ER admissions don’t.
Any low-level drug salesperson can tell you illicit drug use is essentially equal between blacks and whites, but drug arrests of blacks (and other minority populations) are much higher. In fact, a study by the Justice Policy Institute (that’s the po-po, folks) shows what most determines drug arrests is not drug use or drug crime, but how much a jurisdiction spends on law enforcement.
Sort of like speeding tickets: the more traffic cops, the more speeding tickets.
So why are drug epidemiologists all wound up about this Oregon study? Bottom line: it shows that illicit drug use is far more widespread than conventional wisdom indicated. It means there’s hope that far smarter policies can be developed regarding drug use and prevention. It’s not just “poor people in the inner city”, as many suburban non-recreational-drug-users might think.
The longest, probably the most expensive, and certainly the least effective war this country has ever been engaged in - the war on drugs - may be on the verge of some new “shock and awe”.