Methods using to gather information about drug use
What are some methods we can employ in gathering information about drug use, and what are their advantages and disadvantages?
I think checking police records is one way to gather information about drug use. Its only drawback is that is doesn't reflect those who are using drugs, but who haven't been caught! Another possible way is set up a website and let young people know about it. Then, they can email in to let it be known they are a drug user. They can remain anonymous and no adults need to know about their habit. Another way would be to take what drug information can be gathered (possibly from the two above methods) and, using present population trends, extrapolate a model that closely resembles actual numbers. Since most drug users usually don't want anyone to know they're using, there's really no definitive, foolproof way to find out how many there really are.
For direct surveys, other posters have mentioned that it is difficult to gather accurate information because people don't want to admit that they are breaking the law. If you want to conduct a private survey in your school, for example, you need to guarantee participants their anonymity and not use names or ages or anything that gives their identity away. Anonymous email drops and online survey sites might help in this regard.
There are already organizations who do this, based on drug seizure rates and medical records, which are more accurate barometers than surveys based on honesty and full disclosure.
The National Institute for Health, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security have readily available statistics that are easily searchable.
It is very hard to gather real information because of the transient and secretive nature of the population. The best thing to do would probably to go directly to the people who offer services to the drug users. This can include shelters, government programs like disability and welfare and free clinics.
Another method is scientific study. Marijuana studies are often conducted in countries where marijuana is legal (or at least not often prosecuted). Other drugs are often studied in a carefully crafted scientific study. The downside to these studies is that they aren't always a real world example. A controlled experiment can only have one variable. We know that real life has many variables. Sometimes these tests don't show the whole picture but rather a small piece of the puzzle. In general, surveys are used to gather information. These surveys are unreliable and often inaccurate. People aren't likely to be fully honest about something that is illegal in this country.
Let us also remember that another problem with conducting a survey in this area would be that as drug use is illegal, it would be very hard to encourage some students to confess to their drug use in an impersonal survey where they may feel that they might be punished or caught if they admit to taking drugs.
Part of the reason I enjoy these discussions is that they give me an excuse to do some research about topics concerning which I am very uninformed. I learn something in the process. This is one of those topics. Let me pass along a few links that may be helpful to you.
There are many interested groups who study the problem of drug abuse, and their data are generally available on line. Here is a partial list of such sources:
1. Self-halp groups (AA, drug treatment organizations)
2. Law enforcement, DEA, FBI, with annual reporting of statistics
3. Medical publications from emergency services, medical examiner and coroner offices
4. Underground organizations
5. Surveys by pro and anti drug organizations
Each source has its own advantages and disadvantages based on their inherent bias, focus or interest, funding, agenda, etc.
Drug abuse is rampant, and the situation is fluid. Popularity of specific street drugs varies from day to day. It is therefore very difficult to get accurate, timely and current data. The Internet should help. In fact, I would say that the best answer to your question is that the best method of collecting information on drug use is intelligent use of the Internet.
The most usual method is the survey. The advantage of this is that it can reach a lot of people. An example of this is seen in the surveys that are given of all high school students. These surveys allow a huge sample size to be studied. The problem is that drug use is illegal and has a certain stigma (or perhaps a glamor for some). This means that there may well be many people who lie about their drug use on the surveys. This, obviously, reduces the usefulness of the survey.