CASA Report on Teens, Parents and Substance Abuse Is Deceptive and Misleading

The Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) has released another report, "National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XV: Teens and Parents." Unfortunately, CASA has a long history of presenting factually erroneous statistics and misleading assertions as justifications for "national mobilizations" and other drives against alcohol use.

The most recent report is true to that tradition. The problem is a deep one. First, CASA has virtually always refused to submit its reports to peer review, which is contrary to the way real science operates. Without peer review, a politically or ideologically motivated report full of erroneous and misleading statistics can be passed off to the public as a scientific report. That's exactly what CASA does. With good reason, CASA is not held in high regard by scholars and other alcohol researchers. Some background is in order.

When CASA released a political report called Rethinking Rites of Passage: Substance Abuse on American Campuses, it called a press conference and reported a number of headline-grabbing statistics, one of which was that "The number of women who reported drinking to get drunk more than tripled " within a recent 16 year period. However, an investigative reporter discovered that not a single one of the many disturbing statistics was correct! Amazingly, CASA never acknowledged or retracted its erroneous assertions.

CASA then prepared and publicized a report asserting that more than one in four women (27%) who receive welfare are alcohol or drug abusers. This is a disturbing statistic and CASA called for strong action. The real statistic as reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the original source of the figure, was 4.5 percent. So CASA over-reported the true figure by 600 percent! The DHHS also identified other serious errors in the CASA report. CASA never acknowledged or retracted its erroneous 27% assertion. Indeed, it used its press release to repeat the earlier presented bogus statistic that the proportion of college women who drank to get drunk had tripled!

After CASA released a study of alcohol, drugs and unprotected sex among young people, The Center for Consumer Freedom point out that

...a CASA study financed by the Kaiser Family Foundation concluded that a whopping 89 percent of teens who used drugs or alcohol were "at risk" of having unprotected sex. A look at the original survey data, however, reveals that only five percent of high school seniors had actually engaged in unprotected sex after using drugs or alcohol. This, of course, was before CASA and Kaiser cooked the books. In order to inflate its statistics by 1,790 percent, the 15-17 age group was lumped together with those between 18 and 24. In making this "adjustment," they also included married couples! Lastly, they made allowances for student's vague guesses about whether "people my age" just might mix drinking and sex. The result: the five percent of 15-17 year-olds who actually engaged in high-risk behavior were ignored in favor of the 89 percent of 15-17 year-olds who thought someone in their age group "might" do so. Guess which number made the evening news?

In Teen Tipplers: America's Underage Drinking Epidemic, CASA asserted that "underage drinkers account for 25% of all the alcohol consumed in the U.S." and issued a "clarion call for national mobilization to curb underage drinking."

CASA said the figure came from a survey by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, but that agency quickly issued a statement repudiating CASA's statistic and revealing that the actual number was 11.4 percent, which is less than half the amount claimed by CASA.

When questioned at the press conference about the discrepancy, Califano said CASA thought the 11.4 percent found by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration was "too low" and that the actual figure might be higher than the 25 percent CASA falsely reported.

CASA followed that discredited report with another, this time on underage and excessive drinking. As should be expected, the report is seriously flawed and misleading.

The most recent CASA report is also so methodologically inadequate that an undergraduate student in psychology or sociology could easily identify a number of violations of acceptable practice. For example, CASA reports the percentage of students who say that drugs are used, kept or sold on school grounds. It then converts this into a measure of the extent to which schools are "drug-infected." This bogus statistic is really only a measure of the proportion of students who believe that drugs "exist" on campus.

A single arrest, or even allegation of drugs existing on campus, would lead to a higher perception of drugs existing on campus. The perception is not necessarily related at all to the reality, a fact that criminologists have long recognized. So this is really a case of "garbage in, garbage out."

CASA also presents misleading assertions as the following example illustrates.

Under the heading "Increase in Drug-Infected Middle Schools" the report asserts that "This year, one in three middle school students say that drugs are used, kept or sold at their school, an increase of 39% since last year." That alarming statistic is correct but very misleading as the actual data demonstrate.

CASA is guilty again of what researchers condemn as "cherry picking." It carefully selected figures to alarm readers. Two years earlier the percentage dropped by 48%, a fact never mentioned in the CASA report for that year. And the current percentage is virtually identical to what it had been ten years earlier!

Yet CASA's press release was headlined in bold letters "2010 NATIONAL TEEN SURVEY FINDS: MORE THAN ONE QUARTER OF PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS ATTEND GANG- AND DRUG-INFECTED SCHOOLS" and in slightly slightly smaller letters the headline continues "39 PERCENT JUMP IN MIDDLE SCHOOLERS REPORTING DRUGS USED, KEPT, SOLD ON SCHOOL GROUNDS."

So CASA made much ado about nothing. But in deceiving the public it was able to promote its agenda. That's not science but political advocacy.

CASA seeks to create anger and political action to create policy changes, as revealed when it asserts that "A whopping 86 percent of parents said they favored such a law [that CASA promotes] in their community. That response is a scream for action to state and local governments from citizens struggling with the underage drinking crisis in their communities." That's a promotional rather than a scientific statement.

Unfortunately, CASA has a long and continuing history of presenting erroneous statistics and deceptive assertions to promote its agenda.

 

Sources

  • National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XV: Teens and Parents. New York: National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), 2010;
  • National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). 2010 National Teen Survey Finds: More Than One Quarter of Public School Students Attend Gang- And Drug-Infected Schools. Public Schools Much Likelier To Be Drug- And Gang- Infected Than Private And Religious Schools. 39 Percent Jump In Middle Schoolers Reporting Drugs Used, Kept, Sold On School Grounds. Press release, August 19, 2010. New York: National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), 2010;

Readings on Joe Califano and CASA Reports

  • A CASA of cards. abionline.org/news_article.cfm?ID=48 Califano, Joseph.. Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse press conference, "Teen Tipplers: America's Underage Drinking Epidemic," National Press Club, Washington, DC, February 26, 2002. Califano, Joseph. Fictions and facts about drug legalization. America, 1996 (March 16), 174(9), 7-10.
  • Carter, J. Advocacy group [CASA] cites "epidemic" of teen drinking: Federal agency issues own figure. Houston Chronicle, Federal 27, 2002, 9.
  • Center for Consumer Freedom, "National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse" consumerfreedom.com/activistcash/org_detail.cfm?ORG_ID=318
  • Center for Consumer Freedom. National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. consumerfreedom.com/activistcash/org_blackeye.cfm?ORG_ID=318
  • Continetti, N. A 'researcher' drunk with power, The American Enterprise, 3-6-02.
  • Cuomo to Sign Bill Barring Califano. New York Times, 1987 (April 11), 136, p. 9(N), p. 29(L), col 2. New York State passed legislation specifically barring Joe Califano because of ethics problems.
  • DRC Net. "CASA Publishes Propaganda Paper." The Activist Guide, 1-96.
  • Group Says 31 Percent of High Schoolers Report Regular Binge Drinking: New [CASA] Figures on Alcohol Consumption by Minors Conflict with Government's. St. Louis Dispatch, February 27, 2002, A-2.
  • Heath D. B. A big lie about youthful drinking. The Providence (Rhode Island) Journal, April 12, 2002, B6. Dr. Heath argues that if Joe Califano is correct in his assertion that "we have here at CASA the brightest group of people that have been ever put under one roof on this planet to deal with this problem," then it would appear that the "errors" are most probably intentional misrepresentations. Or in ordinary language, CASA is almost certainly lying.
  • Insider and Form 144 Filings - Califano, Joseph A. Jr. (Automated Data Processing, Inc.) and Insider and Form 144 Filings - Califano, Joseph A. Jr. (Citigroup, Inc.) Filings relevant to insider trading by Joe Califano.
  • Lee, H. K. Teen drinking a US epidemic, study says: Under-21s account for 25% of alcohol consumption. San Francisco Chronicle, February 26, 2002, A-1
  • Lewin, T. Disturbing findings on youth drinkers prove to be wrong: Report by National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. New York Times, Feb. 27, 2002, p. A1(N), p. A19(L), col. 1. Reports that findings presented by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University were incorrect.
  • Lewin, T. A big mistake: error on data on teenagers and drinking in report from the Columbia University National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. New York Times, March 3, 2002, p. WK2(N), p. WK2)(L), col. 1. Reports major error in report presented by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
  • McNamara-Meis, K. Burned. Forbes MediaCritic, 1995, 20-24. In this investigative report, journalist Kathy Macnamara-Meis systematically exposed the erroneous and misleading statistics presented by CASA.
  • Milloy, S. College Drinking Study is Intoxicating Scam, foxnews.com/story/0.2933.50104.00.htm
  • Milloy, S. J. Science Without Sense: The Risky Business of Public Health Research. Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 1995.
  • Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. College Commission Finds Excessive Drinking Puts Students at High Risk for AIDS, Rape, Violence and Unplanned Pregnancies: Dramatic Increase in College Women Drinking to Get Drunk. Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse web site.
  • National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). Dangerous Liaisons: Substance Abuse and Sex New York: National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), 1999.
  • National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). The Economic Value of Underage and Adult Excessive Drinking to the Alcohol Industry New York: National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), 2003.
  • National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XIII: Teens and Parents August, 2008. New York: National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), 2008.
  • National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). Substance Abuse and Women on Welfare New York: National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), 1994.
  • National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). Teen Tipplers: America's Underage Drinking Epidemic New York: National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), 2003.
  • Reinarman, C. The drug policy debate in Europe: The case of Califano vs. The Netherlands. International Journal of Drug Policy, 1997, 8(3). Available at cedro-uva.org/lib/reinarman.califano.html. Dr. Reinarman contends that Joe Califano "propagandizes" and that his systematic distortions warrant careful analysis as a case study of how misinformation fuels inappropriate public policy. Therefore, he reveals some of the things that Califano neglects, misrepresents and gets wrong in a single publication.
  • Rorvig, L.B. CASA's integrity questionable. Columbia University Spectator, 2-13-01
  • Shea, C. Thou shalt not: Once a presidential adviser and legal heavyweight, Joe Califano now is thundering against drugs. And woe be to those who doubt his data or get in his way. Washingtonian Magazine, October, 1998. Shea describes Califano as the scourge of anyone who dares to disagree with him. His fanaticism makes Joe Califano see things in black or white and indifferent to scientific evidence. His intolerance and closed-mindedness can be seen in Shea's interview with him reported in the article above: "'Should a 45-year-old,' I asked, 'have the right to light up a joint on his back porch with no one around?' He cut me off before I could get it out. 'Should a 45-year-old have the right to shoot heroin in his backyard?' he barked. 'Should a 45-year-old have the right to, you know, snort cocaine in his backyard? Should a 45-year-old have the right to put a bullet through his head? Okay?'"
  • Sobey, A. "Reefer Madness Logic." Wall Street Journal, 3-31-99.
  • United States Congress. House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Contempt Proceedings against Secretary of HEW, Joseph A. Califano, Jr. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979. The U.S. Congress held contempt proceedings regarding actions of Joe Califano.
  • Vadum, M. Carry Nation Rides Again. United Press International, 4-26-03. Considers Joe Califano to be a contemporary temperance-oriented version of Carry Nation.

filed under: Misinformation

This site does not dispense medical, legal, or any other advice and none should be inferred.
For more fine print, read the disclaimer.