Extent of addiction underestimated

briefing: Drugs
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The Independent Online
Policy makers are being given an inaccurate picture of the extent of illicit drug use, experts claimed yesterday. Drug monitoring did not take account of the prevalence of known problem drug-takers, and provided a "false picture of trends of visible drug use". In addition, the data that was collected was flawed because of under-reporting by drug agencies.

Researchers led by Matthew Hickman, from Imperial College, London, investigated reports of "episodes" of drug user attendance at dependency and rehabilitation clinics. Although records were kept on new clients, the prevalence of known problem drug users who may attend more than one agency was not measured.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the researchers said: "The database does not measure the prevalence of known problem drug-takers, which means it is inadequate for planning services and provides a false picture of trends of visible drug use.

"The database needs to be changed rather than abandoned since policy makers and health services need information on drug users in contact with services."

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