ISSDP response to the @ONS consultation on changes to the CSEW
In response to the ONS consultation on changes to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy (ISSDP) strongly recommends that the proposal to remove questions on use of illicit drugs (option C) is not implemented.
ISSDP is an international scholarly society of researchers who work on drug policy. It aims to: provide a forum for high quality drug policy analysis; develop relations among drug policy analysts and thus strengthen the field; develop the scientific base for policy decisions; improve the interface between researchers and policy makers. The ISSDP is also a charity, registered in England (number 1132454).
Members of the ISSDP, in the UK and other countries, frequently use data provided by the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). This is the only high quality source of data on the prevalence of illicit drug use among adults in the general population in England and Wales. In recent years, the drug use section of the survey has become even more useful through the inclusion of questions on the use of novel psychoactive substances and prescription-only painkillers.
Government ministers, other politicians, policy makers and others also make frequent use of CSEW data. Indeed, the recently published 2017 drug strategy relies on the presence of drug questions in the CSEW. It commits the government to ‘measure frequency (e.g. monthly) and type of drug use data to monitor drug use trends’. The CSEW is the only data source that currently meets this commitment. The strategy further states ‘we will provide this data both at national and local levels’. This would require a substantial expansion of the survey sample, not a reduction with elimination of the drug questions, as proposed by the consultation document.
Without the data provided by CSEW, it would be very difficult to track the need for and effects of policy interventions in the field of illicit drug use. For example, the currently planned Home Office evaluation of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 will also be based on data from the CSEW.
The savings produced by cutting these questions from the CSEW will be marginal, as they relate to reducing the length of each interview, rather than the number of interviews (and interviewers) required. These savings would be outweighed by the need to develop a separate survey to meet the commitment made in the drug strategy.
Amongst the options offered in the consultation, we consider that option A (reducing the response rate) would be the least damaging. We believe that excluding questions on illicit drug use (including novel psychoactive substances and prescription-only painkillers) would be a very damaging choice.
Professor Alex Stevens
President, ISSDP (on behalf of the elected board of the ISSDP)