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.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should direct the DEA Administrator to: (1) reexamine the decision not to use local police heroin buys for computing the price and purity indicators and the reasons for discontinuing the program; (2) modify the criteria for qualifying price and purity samples so that they more accurately reflect the retail market; (3) monitor periodically and on a representative basis the accuracy of the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) system; (4) report as heroin-related only those deaths where heroin played a role; (5) accumulate in a separate DAWN category deaths due to morphine-related drugs such as codeine; (6) report all heroin removals from data contained in the DEA System to Retrieve Information from Drug Evidence; (7) report all heroin removals by their pure weight; and (8) fully disclose in all public statements and reports the limitations of heroin indicators and significant changes affecting indicator results.

    Agency Affected:


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