Development of common metrics for drug policy evaluation

Project Supporters:

Colonial Foundation Trust

image - Common Metrics
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Project Main Description

Measuring the success or otherwise of policies is fundamental to continuous social, economic and community improvement. For complex social problems, such as drug abuse, it is a difficult task. One challenge in the drug policy area is that it transects the multiple domains of health, law enforcement and education. The policy interventions themselves address different components of the drug problem: law enforcement is focussed on reducing the supply of drugs (through seizures of drugs and dismantlement of criminal networks); health interventions are focussed on reducing drug use by users (through treatment), and reducing the harms associated with drug use (through harm reduction programs); education is focussed on preventing the uptake of drugs. Each of these policy interventions are important contributions to Australia’s response to drugs, but are measured by different outcomes. In reporting on the success (or otherwise) of these different policies, one single measure of impact or outcome would be highly beneficial. A single measure would enable governments to report with confidence the impact of their areas to Treasury and to the community. A single measure would also be a highly valuable research tool that could be used to compare policy options.

The drugs field has been engaged in work across the globe on composite Drug Indexes. There is the UK Drug Harm Index, the UNODC Illicit Drug Index, the New Zealand Drug Harm Index and the AFP Drug Harm Index. The work is difficult and has many methodological and conceptual challenges.

This project has explored the establishment of a single measure of impact – an ‘Australian Drug Harm Index’.


This project has included a number of different types of activities:

  • two grant applications (a postdoctoral fellowship and an NHMRC partnerships grant), both of which were not successful but represented important steps in conceptualising the methodologies, and (in the case of the latter) in bringing various government departments together to discuss the Index;

  • An international workshop was held in March 2009 at UNODC in Vienna, where scholars met to discuss the various methodological challenges associated with Index work.

  • A review of the New Zealand Drug Harm Index was published (Matters of Substance)

  • Consultation and advice provided to the Victoria Police: The Victoria Police developed a Drug Harm Index to inform strategic policing at a local command level. DPMP provided advice on methods and data sources and reviewed documentation for the Victoria Police research team.

A number of critical issues have been identified in this work:

  • Data availability is a key driver of possible inclusion in an Index

  • There are few, if any, measures of public amenity/safety

  • There are few, if any, measures of the economic consequences associated with criminal activities such as money laundering

  • Pain and suffering and productivity and welfare payments are another area where data are lacking.

In addition, prevalence and consumption estimates, required for such work, are outdated. Australia is not alone in struggling to deal with significant data gaps.

Implications for policy: If a Drug Harm Index were successfully developed, it would enable decision-makers to assess and weigh up different policy options and program choices. In the absence of a common metric, valuing different types of drug interventions (eg: health, law enforcement) is complicated.

Implications for research: The development of drug indexes requires considerable resources and a diverse multi-disciplinary team.



  • Ritter, A. (2009). Methods for comparing drug policies - the utility of composite Drug Harm Indexes. International Journal of Drug Policy, 20, 475-479

  • Ritter, A. (2008). Where angels fear to tread. Matters of Substance, 18(4), 18-20.


  • Ritter, A. (March, 2009). A workshop on illicit drug harm indexes. Workshop at the 3rd Annual International Society for the Study of Drug Policy, Vienna, Austria.

  • Ritter, A. (2008, April). The development of an Australian drug policy index. Presentation at the 2nd Annual International Society for the Study of Drug Policy Conference, Lisbon, Portugal.

  • Ritter, A. (2008, February). Measuring for successful drug policy. Presentation at the 2008 Parliamentary Drug Policy Roundtable, Wellington, New Zealand.

  • Ritter, A. (2008, February). The Drug Policy Modelling Program Harm Index. Presentation at the Interagency Committee on Drugs (IACD), Wellington, New Zealand.

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Colonial Foundation Trust

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