NDARC Technical Report No. 5 (1990)
The aim of this report is to examine potential data sources for early warning of changes in drug use in the community. The report is written for the consideration of the National
Drug Abuse Information Centre (NDAIC) in order to stimulate discussion on the topic of what indicators should be included in an early warning system. The aim of the system to be
discussed is to measure, in a timely fashion, changes in drug use so as to allow the administrators and planners of drug and alcohol programs to adapt their services to
meet the changing needs of their clients.
The content of the report is based largely on consultation with officials from the NSW Directorateofthe Drug Offensive. No attempt was made to assess the feasibility of the
potential indicators in other Australian jurisdictions. It is hoped that the list of indicators will stimulate other States/territories to consider the feasibility of collecting data on each indicator within their jurisdiction, and to identify other indicators which should be considered. The aim ofthe paper is therefore to present a discussion of the indicators from the point of view of the NSW situation as an initial stimulus for the development of a national early warning system.
Methodologically, the topic was approached by, ftrst, listing all possible indicators of changes in drug use. This list was generated simply by asking those in the field to name indicators they thought relevant. Then, consideration was given to what aspects of drug use the indicators would be expected to cover. That is, the "dimensions of drug use" relevant to early warning were identified.
Next, literature on early warning was consulted to determine what criteria should be considered for inclusion of an indicator in an early warning network. Five criteria were identified: timeliness, volume of data, complementarity with other indicators, validity of data, and cost.
Each indicator was then discussed with respect to the early warning criteria and dimensions of drug use issues. Finally, relationships between the indicators were considered. The result was a list of seven indicators which are seen from the point of view of NSW as able to form an early warning network.
A range of sources were considered, as well as two systematic reporting systems (National Drug Poisonings Case Reporting Systems-NDPCRS & National Forensic Case Reporting System-NFCRS). It was concluded that:
It is therefore recommended that an early warning network consist of information gathered through the NDPCRS, the NFCRS, key informants, ambulance officer reports, telephone advice lines, patients in treatment, and needle exchange centres.