Side Event: Practices and Challenges in Relation to Data Quality and the National Capacity to Produce Drug Statistics

Bente Angell-Hansen (Norwegian Ambassador): Bente welcomed the participants, and highlighted that the expert meeting on the UNODC Annual Reports Questionnaires (ARQs) in January 2018 represents the first step in this process. She reminded the room of a quote she has heard: “If you have a problem that you don’t want to do anything about – do not measure it”.

Angela Me (UNODC): Partnerships are key, such as the one between UNODC, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the UN Statistical Commission. These two Commissions bring different, but important perspectives. We need evidence, and we need the evidence to have integrity – as is embedded by the Statistical Commission. But we also need policy making bodies that can make use of the evidence – such as CND. Angela has also been appointed as Chair of the CCSA, the international community of statisticians. This group meets regularly, with the next meeting in Vienna. Together, statisticians follow certain core principles, including: a commitment to high-quality, accessible statistics which are available to all users at the same time; impartial production of statistics based on the highest standards; and the selection of appropriate data sources that are cost-efficient and low-burden for the data providers. An invitation has been sent to all member states to nominate experts for the January meeting, and we are looking for people who have first-hand experience of data and statistic collection.

Aija Zigure (UN Statistical Commission): The Statistical Commission as established in 1947 to work on standards, methods and implementation of all UN statistical efforts. It is a functional Committee of ECOSOC, like CND, and comprises 24 selected member states. Several countries lack capacity and resources for data collection, and data can also often be low quality as it comes from too many sources that do not align. But we are able to imagine what an ideal data collection system for drug policy might look like: covering use, consequences, supply, markets, trafficking and criminal responses, and social impacts including marginalisation. The ideal data sources include drug use surveys, population size estimates, treatment records, registers of drug users, mortality and morbidity data, early warning systems, and waste water analysis, etc.

Mario Palma (Mexican Institute of Statistics and Geography – INEGI): Why do we measure? To form better policies. It is complex and sensitive work. The Roadmap on drug statistics produced by the Statistical Commission builds upon the UNGASS. Several references to the importance of data and evaluation were also included in the Omnibus Resolution agreed in New York by the UN General Assembly last month. But how does this all translate on the ground? INEGI’s work is based on the fundamental principles of the UN Statistical Commission, which were approved by the General Assembly in 2014. INEGI is autonomous from the Mexican government, but works very closely with them to produce official statistics. Their challenges include under-reporting of drug use, the identification of new trends (such as increased heroin trafficking and production in Mexico), and definitions and standardised measurements.


Paul Griffiths, EMCDDA: We need greater inter-agency coherence on reporting related to drugs, as UNODC, WHO, UNAIDS and others all gather data from member states on this issue. Standardisation is important, but how to achieve this? In many countries, national statistical offices do not work on drugs as it is seen as too specialised an area and very complex.

Angela Me: All the relevant UN agencies have been invited to the January meeting, and I agree that we need better standardisation. This is one of many areas where we need to do more.

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