How Accurate is The Global Drug Survey?
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How Accurate is The Global Drug Survey?


This post was originally published on December 8, 2014.

Statistics about drug use and addiction are often thrown around as if there is a universal assumption that—somewhere out there, in the abyss of the scientific and medical field—there are people whose job it is to collect accurate data on such things. But how do nerdy researchers acquire information on underground drug trends? The Global Drug Survey, that’s how. According to a recent piece on Vice, the GDS—founded by Dr. Adam Winstock—provides a platform for drug users from around the world (at least those with an Internet connection) to report their using habits anonymously, in turn creating the largest drug survey on the planet.

I Call Bullshit

I am not entirely sure the purpose of the GDS. I guess finding out that MDMA use is on the rise could help gage public health and educational needs, and the fact that more people are—apparently—using MDMA than drinking energy drinks might be a useful hint for Red Bull to rethink their ingredients. But the fact that cocaine is currently the worst bang for your drug buck doesn’t seem to be valuable info for anyone other than a budding drug addict bargain shopper.

I am also a bit skeptical of how accurate the GDS data is considering that it’s 100% dependent on information provided by druggies, who are—at best—high (and probably paranoid) and at the very least likely to be liars with an emotional capacity of a tween.

As a former drug user myself, I might have found some taboo excitement in participating in an online survey and answering questions about a subject matter I spent most of my time trying to hide. But I am an upper-middle class Caucasian, as the study shows most of the participants are, and while I don’t have any hard data to back up my theory on why this demographic mostly chimes in on the GDS, my guess is it has something to do with semi-privileged white people not being raised to believe the world is against them. I wasn’t taught to think that cops were out to scapegoat me or frame me for a crime. Unless we are high on crack or meth or schizophrenic, white people don’t typically consider the fact that an anonymous survey may not actually be anonymous. Our entitlement gives us the balls to advertise our illegal activities on the Internet through a traceable IP address because if anything were to happen, we would just cry entrapment, hire a lawyer and exercise our rights since we were raised to believe we have them.

Even though it would be a much smaller and specific sample, I would trust the accuracy of data about drug use collected from a treatment center over a worldwide survey that any hoo-ha and their idiot brother can log on and fill out.

Still, Can Statistics about This Actually Be Accurate?

But statistics themselves can be such a crapshoot. If you have ever been someone or known someone with a drug and/or alcohol problem, you may have heard that Alcoholics Anonymous only has a 5% success rate. But as a recovering alcoholic with thousands of sober and relapsed alcoholics in my social network (in one of the largest cities in the country), I have yet to be asked—or known anyone to be asked—to fill out a questionnaire, take an anonymous survey or sign in anywhere recovery related. So where are these numbers coming from? And what is considered a “success” in AA—over a year or sobriety? Over five? More than 10? What do we call someone with 24 years of sobriety who decides he can smoke pot every now and then and eight months later is found dead from a heroin overdose? Is more than two decades of sobriety categorized as a failure because he up and decided to leave the program? As far as I can tell, the success rate in AA is 100% if you are willing and mentally capable to work the program.

I am not saying the GDS is a waste of time and resources, just that I hope the credibility of the sources are being considered. I also think that if we really want an accurate perception of what is happening in the drug world, we need someone to go into detoxes and rehabs to get the facts. Or, better yet, send someone into clubs and bars to ask people to fill out a survey in exchange for a drug of their choice.

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.