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Estimating the Prevalence of Drug Misuse in Scotland

NCJ Number
Martin Frischer
Date Published
52 pages
This report describes methods for estimating the size of drug-using populations in Scotland, discusses issues involved in interpreting prevalence information, and outlines options for future prevalence research.
Section 1 examines the usefulness of prevalence estimation, whether policy makers and service providers need prevalence estimates in addition to other indicators of drug misuse, and whether public expenditure on combating drug misuse is justified by the actual level of drug misuse. The discussion of the aforementioned issues provides a framework for considering various forms of prevalence estimation. Section 2 critically reviews a range of estimation methods that could be used in Scotland. Three types of direct method -- enumeration, needs assessment, and surveys -- are assessed. The limitations of direct prevalence estimation have led to the development of indirect methods, in which information on known drug use and users is used to estimate the extent of the hidden population. Four indirect methods are appraised: capture-recapture, multiplier techniques, network analysis, and synthetic estimation. The section concludes with a discussion of other forms of prevalence estimation, such as hair/urine analysis and system dynamic models. Section 3 provides guidance on selecting an appropriate method for various objectives, and Section 4 presents a digest of views on prevalence estimation from Scottish Health Boards. Given the widespread belief that drug misuse will continue to increase throughout Scotland, Section 5 outlines options for enhancing routine data collection, evaluating drug policies, and coordinating local and national surveillance and research. Finally, the option of a National Survey, which could provide a focus for Scottish drug-prevalence estimation, is re-evaluated. 6 figures, 15 tables, 57 references, and appended questionnaire sent to drug misuse coordinators and chairpersons of drug action teams


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