Drug Czar's Office Withheld Alcohol Data From Report on Drugs and Crime, Now Refuses to Release It


US Embassy Afghanistan

UPDATE: Drug Czar's Office Admits to Omitting Alcohol Data From Drug and Crime Report

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy released a study last week that found the majority of arrestees in five metropolitan areas tested positive for marijuana at the time they were booked, and that many other arrestees tested positive for harder drugs. There was one drug missing from the report, however, and it appears it was omitted intentionally. That drug is alcohol.

When I wrote up the 2012 annual report on the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program II, I noticed that the methodology section contained a list of "data domains"; basically, a guide to the questions researchers asked each arrestee. Every question listed had a corresponding chart in the findings section of the report, save one: The data that researchers collected about alcohol consumption–how often arrestees had consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in a single session over the last three, seven, and 30 days, as well as in the past 12 months–was omitted from the report.


Curious as to why the ONDCP report contained data about where arrestees had purchased drugs (apartment, outdoors) and their method of acquisition (cash, barter, theft), but not how often they'd engaged in heavy drinking in the days leading up to their arrest, I asked ONDCP Communications Director Rafael Lemaitre why answers to the alcohol question had been omitted from the report. His first response was to accuse me of pushing a conspiracy:


While Lemaitre was right that researchers did not test arrestee urine for alcohol, that's not what I asked him. What I wanted to know was why the dataset about alcohol was omitted from the report. So I sent Lemaitre a screenshot from the report with the alcohol data domain circled in red. At this point, Lemaitre changed his tune: 


I responded by telling Lemaitre that I didn't question the survey's value, only why the alcohol data was withheld and where I could get it. Once again, Lemaitre redirected: 


That exchange happened Friday. Today is Tuesday. Lemaitre hasn't responded to my queries over Twitter, or contacted me at the email address I provided. There's a good chance that he won't, and that a FOIA request will be the only way to get the alcohol data that the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy withheld from its report on drugs and crime.

As for why it matters: Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske argued in a Thursday speech at the Urban Institute that the ADAM II findings demonstrate why Americans must "come to grips with the link between crime and substance use," and "abandon simplistic bumper-sticker approaches, such as boiling the issue down to a 'war on drugs' or outright legalization." Kerlikowske also singled out pot for criticism because a majority of arrestees tested positive for, or admitted to, using marijuana.

I have no idea why the ONDCP withheld alcohol data from its report, but the obvious answer is that alcohol has a higher criminal cost and is probably more prevalent among arrestees than illicit drugs. Yet admitting as much in the ADAM II report would have precluded Kerlikowske and the ONDCP from making its bogus "link" argument about marijuana and other illegal drugs. 

Regardless of why the ONDCP admitted alcohol data, for transparency's sake they need to release it.