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How We Got the Data for the
National Household Survey on Drug Abuse

Recently, the New York Times and other mainstream media reported: "The annual National Household Survey on Drug Abuse said 9 percent of U.S. teens used drugs in 1996, compared with 10.9 percent in 1995."

Media accounts were filled with additional, highly detailed statistics about the types of drugs used and the age groups of the users. Patty got to wondering how such highly sensitive information was gathered from American households...



Ring! Ring!

"Hello?"

"Hello, we're calling for a survey for the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, and we'd like you to answer a few questions. Your answers will be confidential, of course."

"Well, I don't know..."

"Do you have teenagers in your household?"

"Well, yes, John is 16 and Marybell is 19."

"Do your teens use illegal drugs or alcohol?"

Click.


Ring! Ring!

"Hello?"

"Hello, we're calling for a survey for the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, and we'd like you to answer a few questions. Your answers will be confidential, of course."

"You gotta be NUTS. Besides, its dinnertime."

"Wait, Sir. Do you have teenagers in your household?"

"Yes."

"Do they use illegal drugs or alcohol?"

"Yeah, right. You think I'm going answer that? And have some cops show up to knock down my door? Get lost!"

"But your answers will be confiden....

Click.


Ring! Ring!

"Hello?"

"Hello, we're calling for a survey for the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, and we'd like you to answer a few questions. Your answers will be confidential, of course."

"Huh?"

"Do you have teenagers in your household?"

"Well there's me and my brother..."

"Do you use illegal drugs or alcohol?"

(Snickering)

"Oh sure we do! We're like high on something all the time--my dad's booze or pot or acid every day. (background laughter) It's how we get all our good grades."

"Uh, how often do you and your friends get high?"

"Like I said, man, all the time." (loud background laughter)

Click.


Ring! Ring!

"Dickens here."

"Sir, I'm not having much luck with responses for the survey. No one will talk to me except kids, and they all think it is pretty funny."

"I thought this might be the case. Hold on. I'll get back to you on it."

Click.


Ring! Ring!

"Center to Produce Whatever Statistics You Want. Deborah speaking. May I help you?"

"Yes. I need some stats for the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse--we're not getting any responses again. It's worse than last year--more people think they will lose property to forfeiture, cops breaking down the doors, that sort of thing. Can you give us a hand?"

"Why, of course we can! The Center is a well-known provider for the Federal Government. You know that! How would you like the numbers?"

"A little lower--not much, just a tad--than last year. Can you swing that?"

"You bet! We'll get started right away."

Click.


Ring! Ring!

"Hello?"

"Dickens here. Don't bother with any more calls to the yokels. I called the Center again."

"Oh thank you sir! People have just become so uncooperative since our budgets became dependent on forfeiture. I'll get back to work on other essential tasks."

Click.

Patricia Neill, 1997




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8 Dec, 1997