Substance Use Survey Data Collection Methodologies: Introduction

By Hennessy, Kevin; Ginsberg, Caren | Journal of Drug Issues, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Substance Use Survey Data Collection Methodologies: Introduction


Hennessy, Kevin, Ginsberg, Caren, Journal of Drug Issues


Each year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) makes a substantial investment in collecting information regarding the prevalence of youth substance use and abuse. This information is collected through several different venues. In particular, three DHHS-funded surveys provide important annual or biannual information enabling federal decision makers and other interested constituencies to monitor trends in the use and abuse of substances among various youth subpopulations and to formulate appropriate programs and policies that will address emerging or existing substance abuse problems among youth. These three surveys are the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; the Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF), sponsored by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse through a grant to the University of Michigan; and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In order to address emerging questions related to differences in youth substance use prevalence estimates generated by these sources and to improve the understanding of federal policy makers regarding the influence of methodological differences on youth prevalence estimates, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation within DHHS commissioned a group of recognized experts in the area of survey design, sampling techniques, and statistical analysis to write papers examining and comparing the methodologies of each survey. These experts were also encouraged to discuss potential options for analytic work that might further improve DHHS's understanding of how specific methodological factors contribute to variations in prevalence estimates among these surveys. This special supplement to the Journal of Drug Issues presents these five commissioned papers, along with commentaries by federal staff primarily responsible for the oversight of each of the three surveys.

Briefly, the three surveys highlighted here each make unique contributions to our understanding of the nature of youth substance use and abuse. The YRBS examines various risk behaviors among high school students and provides vital information on specific behaviors that cause the most important health problems among youth in the United States. The MTF Survey examines attitudes and behaviors of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders with regard to drug, alcohol, and tobacco use and provides important data on both substance use and the attitudes and beliefs that may contribute to such behaviors. The NHSDA assesses use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco among noninstitutionalized individuals age 12 and older. In particular, the NHSDA provides the federal government with its only source of nationally representative data on adult substance use in this country.

DHHS contracted with Westat, a survey research company in Rockville, Maryland, to assist in the selection of potential authors and to manage the process leading to the production of five expert papers. As part of their efforts, Westat established a framework to ensure that, considered together, the five papers would address particular features of the surveys. These included: 1) coverage (household vs. school-based surveys; sample frames); 2) sample design and replacement; 3) questionnaire features (wording, order, context of questions); 4) setting (social desirability bias), presence of an interviewer, and survey mode effects; 5) privacy and consent; 6) non-response and adjustment for non-response; 7) treatment of missing, inconsistent, and out-of-range data; and 8) presentation of data. In addition to ensuring adequate coverage of these noted features, authors were selected to avoid a real or apparent conflict of interest (e.g., individuals currently employed by an organization that produced any of the surveys were not considered). While knowledge of the surveys was not necessarily a prerequisite for selection, it was considered, along with professional recognition and accomplishments. …

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