The Atlantic Cities (Mike Riggs): How to Measure Heroin Use When No One Will Admit to Using Heroin

By MIKE RIGGS – March 11, 2014

Even in the so-called age of Big Data, there are consumer behaviors that researchers still have a difficult time tracking. Perhaps number one on that list? Heroin use.

How to Measure Heroin Use When No One Will Admit to Using Heroin
C. Reuters

Unlike marijuana, alcohol, or tobacco users, who are generally forthcoming about the frequency and quantity of their consumption, users of heroin (as well as cocaine and methamphetamines, though neither of those drugs has a comparable death toll) are much less honest about their habits and therefore less likely to be captured in the U.S.’s most well-known voluntary survey on drug use, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

For as long as it’s been around, the NSDUH has provided a pretty good picture of marijuana use in the U.S., and is a reliable source for annual stories about teens and pot (a perennial sticking point in the debate over marijuana legalization). But the NSDUH data on hard drug use seldom makes as big a splash. In a new report from the RAND Corporation, researchers suggest that one reason for this disparity may be that the NSDUH survey underestimates heroin use by an eye-boggling amount. “Estimates from the 2010 NSDUH suggest there were only about 60,000 daily and near daily heroin users in the United States,” drug policy researchers Beau Kilmer and Jonathan Caulkins, both of the RAND Corporation, wrote in a recent editorial. “The real number is closer to 1 million.”

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