Joseph Gfroerer spent nearly 40 years working as a statistician for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Starting in 1988, when the American drug war was taking its current shape, he led the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), one of the federal government’s largest and most important ongoing health surveys that tracks Americans’ use of illegal drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol and tobacco. War Stories from the Drug Survey: How Culture, Politics, and Statistics Shaped the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (Cambridge UP, 2018), written after he retired, shows where the survey came from, details how it gathers information, and tracks the impact that the shifting cultural and political climate surrounding drug use played on how these statistics were understood. Gfroerer provides necessary insight on what drug use statistics have meant, how they’ve been used (and misused), and what this means for our understanding of drug use in America today.
Emily Dufton is the author of Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America (Basic Books, 2017). A drug historian and writer, her second book, on the development of the opioid addiction medication industry, is under contract with the University of Chicago Press.