Heroin Statistics Can Be Made More Reliable

GGD-80-84: Published: Jul 30, 1980. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 1980.

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GAO reviewed the statistical indicators used by the Government to assess its impact on heroin abuse and supply in the United States. The clandestine nature of heroin trafficking and consumption prevents direct measurement of availability and purity. Consequently, the Federal Government uses indirect indicators to monitor the extent of domestic heroin abuse and availability.

GAO found that the statistical indicators used to assess law enforcement efforts to combat heroin trafficking and abuse have problems that affect their reliability. To make these statistics more reliable, DEA needs to: (1) revise the database used to determine retail heroin prices and purity; (2) monitor for accuracy in reporting the heroin-related death and injury data; (3) eliminate from reported heroin removals the double counting and overstating; and (4) expand the reporting indicators by noting limitations in the way they are developed and how they can be used. Further, the heroin indicators are often cited without sufficient qualification. So cited, they give the impression that they are precise measures; however, they are not. When using these indicators, care should be taken to fully disclose data and methodology limitations so that the indicator users can make better informed decisions.

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