Drug use among police detainees: a comparative analysis of DUMA and the US arrestee drug abuse monitoring program

29 May 2012

Monitoring international trends in drug production and supply has been a key function of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); it regularly provides between-country comparative data in the World Drug Report and the Global Illicit Drug Trends Report.

These data, typically on drug detections and drug-related arrests, are combined with intelligence and assessment reports to provide important insights into the production, transportation and use of illicit drugs across the globe. In particular, the data serve as a timely reminder of the significant transnational dimension of illicit drug markets and the corresponding need for ongoing international cooperation in supply reduction efforts. In addition, efforts to monitor international drug use trends provide a useful opportunity for better understanding the context and environment in which drug law enforcement and prevention policy is developed and implemented, especially where these policies and ideas are shared on the global stage. Drug courts are a prime example of a shared prevention policy.
The idea was conceived in Dade County, Miami (US) in response to growing concern about local drug-related crime. Since then, drug courts have proliferated both throughout the US and internationally—including in Australia, where drug courts or similar drug diversion options exist in every state and territory (Wundersitz 2007). This transference of programs and policies from one country to another requires careful consideration of contextual differences likely to impact on their effectiveness—and is true for policies in the criminal justice sector. Knowing to what extent drug use varies between countries is integral to the success of the policy transference process—ensuring that local responses meet local needs.
The Australian Institute of Criminology’s (AIC) Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program offers a unique opportunity to generate data for comparing the use of specific types of drug among criminal justice populations in different countries. DUMA is Australia’s largest, ongoing collection of self-report and urinalysis data from alleged offenders who have been detained by the police. It was first established in 1999 under the Australian National Illicit Drug Strategy and operated in three jurisdictions (NSW, QLD and WA). DUMA is part of a global research network known as the International Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (I-ADAM) program, which has comprised a range of countries, including the United States, United Kingdom and Australia (Makkai 1999). Key components of Australia’s DUMA program, including both the original survey and urinalysis methodologies, were modelled on the US Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program which, although suspended from 2004 to 2006 (inclusive), has since restarted—renamed ADAM II—with funding from the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Apart from some methodological differences, the DUMA and ADAM II programs have the same essential design. Both programs survey police detainees (referred to as arrestees in the US) about their lifelong and recent use of illegal and legal drugs, and both conduct voluntary urinalysis to objectively measure very recent drug use; it is in this context that comparative analysis can be undertaken. Unlike drug-related arrest and seizure data, which are likely to be influenced by policing activities and local law enforcement priorities, rates of drug use among police detainees are likely to provide a relatively comparable measure of differences in the extent of illegal drug use among those coming into contact with the criminal justice system.

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