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Understanding Drug War Statistics

3.  Junk Science Drives Drug Policy

Alexander DeLuca, M.D. June 17, 2004. Originally posted 2004-06-17; Major revisions: 2004-06-29; page last modified: 2005-11-05

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#1-Declare a Perpetual Crisis;  #2-Big Lies and Bullies;  #3-Junk Science Drives Policy;  #4-Outcome Obfuscation;  #5-Denominator Abuse;  #6-Flash Trash;  #7-Shock Schlock

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Before we examine some specific examples of the misuse and abuse of statistics commonly resorted to by the drug warriors it is important to understand how the various studies and numbers, credible or not, are used by Congress to make the law of the land.

Junk science and U.S. Government policy

It is particularly dismaying to find discredited misinformation written, without attribution, into Congressional legislation. Consider the "Findings" section of the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1998:

"(a) Findings.-Congress finds that-

(4) employees who use and abuse addictive illegal drugs and alcohol increase costs for businesses and risk the health and safety of all employees because-

(A) absenteeism is 66 percent higher among drug users than individuals who do not use drugs;

(B) health benefit utilization is 300 percent higher among drug users than individuals who do not use drugs;

(C) 47 percent of workplace accidents are drug-related;

(D) disciplinary actions are 90 percent higher among drug users than among individuals who do not use drugs; and

(E) employee turnover is significantly higher among drug users than among individuals who do not use drugs." (Drug-Free Workplace Act, 1998)  

Let us examine the claims of drug testing proponents from whence these "Findings" are derived.

Claim: Drug users cost businesses $33 billion each year in lost productivity

The Firestone "Study"
"Statistics" like this are rarely accompanied by references. When a reference is given to support claims about accidents and absenteeism and benefits the citation is usually to "The Firestone Study." The only problem is that the "Firestone Study" never existed. Quoting from "Drug Testing, A Bad Investment:"

In 1972, in a luncheon address to executives of the Firestone Company, an unidentified speaker ... claimed that workers with 'medical-behavioral problems' ... had 2.5 times more absences [etc]. No mention was made of how the data had been obtained, how many workers had been examined, or the nature of the workers' 'medical-behavioral' problems.  ... The following year, the Firestone speech was reproduced in an archival collection of essays where, ten years later, it was discovered by Sidney Cohen, editor of the widely read 'Drug Abuse and Alcoholism Newsletter. (Maltby, 1999)

Cohen clearly implied that research had been done and that he had studied the results and was now going to interpret them for his readers. (Cohen, 1985) . In any event, once Sidney Cohen sanctioned the Firestone "results" they gained the full backing of his significant stature and that of his Newsletter. This is how it happens.

Claim: Drug users cause workplace accidents.
This claim has been conclusively shown to be false. Hoffman and Larison's thorough analysis of the 1994 National Household Survey data reveals no association between drug use, present or past, and workplace accidents.
(Hoffman and Larison, 1998) Although these results may seem unintuitive, they agree with other studies on this issue. (French, Roebuck, and Alexandre, 2001) [emphasis mine]

Claim: Drug users use more medical benefits.
Wrong again. Studies on this question are equivocal at best. A large study of postal workers published in 1990 found that 64 percent of drug test positives, compared to 48 percent of those testing negative for drugs, were above the median for medical claims made. But in another good study, Utah Power and Light workers who tested positive cost the company less in medical claims then their colleagues who tested negative for drugs ($1,009.00 vs. $1,438.00)
(Normand, Lempert, and O'Brien, 1994) [emphasis mine]

 What we have here is nothing less that the incorporation of bogus data into a federal law in order to justify mandatory drug testing for government employees in pursuit of the impossible 'Drug-Free Workplace.'


Drug-Free Workplace Act (1998). Drug-Free Workplace Act. (Available:

Maltby, L. L (1999). Drug Testing - A Bad Investment. New York: American Civil Liberties Union, 1-27. (Available:

Cohen, S. (1985). Drugs in the Workplace. In Cohen, S. (Ed.), The Substance Abuse Problems, Volume Two (pp. 224-228). London: Haworth Press

Hoffman, J. and Larison, C. (1998). Drugs and the Workplace. Chicago: Nation Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago, (Available:

French, M.T., Roebuck, C., and Alexandre, P.K. (2001). Illicit Drug Use, Employment, and Labor Force Participation. Southern Economic Journal, 68, 349-368. (Available:

 Normand, J., Lempert, R. O., and O'Brien, C. P. (1994). Under the Influence? Drugs and the American Work Force. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, (Available:

I hope you found this document helpful. The "Understanding Drug War Statistics" series continues with Part 4: "Outcome Obfuscation"



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Alexander DeLuca, M.D., MPH

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Originally posted: 2004-06-17

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