A Preliminary Report on the Validity of Self-Reported Tobacco and Marijuana Use in the NHSDA

Lana D. Harrison, University of Delaware
Steven S. Martin, University of Delaware

General population surveys are major sources of social indicator data in the U.S. Oftentimes, there is no other way to gather this type of information in a meaningful way other than asking people about their behavior or their attitudes. The U.S. government has recognized this in using survey methodology to collect social indicator data on drug use in several major national studies, of which the longest running, largest and most comprehensive study is the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse (NHSDA). This paper uses data from the first year of a 2-year study being conducted in conjunction with the NHSDA, which seeks to fill a void in our knowledge about the validity of survey data on drug use among the general population. Several studies have examined the validity of self-reports of drug use with criminal justice and/or treatment populations. These studies have found significant under-reporting of recent drug use as validated by bioassays of urine and/or hair specimens. Unanswered, however, is the validity of self-report in a general population survey. Results from criminal justice and treatment populations, who are much more likely to be involved with drugs, have limited generalizability. The only way to definitively determine the validity of self-reported drug use generated by survey methods is to survey a large enough percentage of a representative subset of the general population using both state-of-the-art survey procedures and collecting criterion measures. This was the goal of the Validity study.

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Updated 05/20/2006