ADAM’s Evolution; Feds Debate Arrestee Drug Tests


Since the late 1980s, the federal government has funded urine testing of arrestees to get current information on what drugs they are using. Now some insiders are worried about the future of the program, which started as Drug Use Forecasting (DUF) and now is called Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM).

ADAM collects data in more than 30 cities, the only standard source available to provide detailed information on the drug-crime nexus. The project now is consuming a large chunk of the federal crime research budget–about $8 million of an expected $48 million this year for the National Institute of Justice. While it generates local information, it does not give the national arrestee drug-use picture.

NIJ, its sister agency, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy say they are developing a “promising strategy” to overhaul ADAM to produce a “reliable national estimate” of drug use by arrestees.

Important details are yet to be worked out, but Eric Wish, who invented the program while at NIJ in the 1980s, is dubious. “To obtain a single national estimate is folly, because drug use varies so much from city to city,” says Wish, now a University of Maryland criminologist. He says a pretrial defendant drug test program in Washington, D.C., that was a precursor of ADAM “predicted the heroin epidemic in the 1970s, the cocaine epidemic in the 1980s, and the surge in marijuana use in the 1990s.” Criminologist Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie-Mellon University agrees that “it would be undesirable to lose geographic specificity. I'm not sure what we would do with a single national estimate.”

A report from the White House Drug Control Policy office calls for increasing the number of testing sites to 75 cities, but it does not say whether the “probability based samples” that would be sought would allow for reliable reporting of local data. Jack Riley, a former director of the ADAM program, believes that both national and local aims might be met more cost effectively by sampling arrestee urine fewer than the current four times a year per city, one of the elements that makes ADAM costly. “This is clearly an important population to monitor,” says Riley, now at the RAND Corporation. Riley sees few signs that “communities are making good use of the data.”

NIJ director Sarah Hart promises to “draw upon the expertise of key researchers and federal policy advisors in creating this new national estimate.” She projected that a reformulated ADAM system will be operating in 2005. A report commissioned by NIJ by the Booz-Allen & Hamilton consulting firm reportedly praises ADAM's current operations.


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