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Youth and Drugs (Sociology of Narcotism) »


I. P. Rushchenko

* Originally in Russian:
Rushchenko, I. P. (2000). Quantitative measurement of the process of drug spread. In: Youth and Drugs (sociology of narcotism) (eds. V. A. Sobolev and I. P. Rushchenko), pp. 17–83. Kharkiv: Torsing.

Initial research situation

The sociological research on the spread of drugs among young people was not done in the former USSR. The problem of drugs was dealt with a limited number of specialists (physicians-narcologists, practice lawyers, where sociologists were not admitted into, the corresponding statistics was not made public. It was dictated by political and ideological motives: Soviet propaganda attributed the problem of drugs to the sins of the capitalist society. Censorial limitations were withdrawn in the late 80-s. The problem of drugs since then becomes a popular topic for mass media. The first wave of publications was notable for the alarmist trend and in the majority of cases — for low professionalism in covering the situations with drugs among young people. In the late 80-s and early 90-s there were first attempts of sociological research on the drug problem in the former USSR and Ukraine. It showed that drug problem requires special profound training of researchers, good knowledge of the subject of research. Absence of specialization and well thought strategies reduced the quality of work and the authenticity of obtained data. Successful solution of gnosiological, methodological problems can’t be reached by the way of direct (not adapted) use of foreign methods as well. These circumstances stipulated initial research situation of the beginning of the work at the International project ‘Dynamics, social-cultural and subjective conditions of the spread of illegal drugs amongst young people since the Second World War” for Kharkiv sociologists.

Spread of drugs as a latent social process

Epidemic of narcotism, spread of illegal drugs in society, addictive behavior (as prostitution, crime, corruption) are relevant to the class of specific latent processes. From the gnosiological point of view these processes are characterized by four kinds of latent situations. First, these difficulties of acquiring full information about history, tendencies, social aspects of spread of illegal drugs till the 90-s, connected with censorial and ideological limitations on research activities in this period. Second, it is the mythology making of the phenomenon, caused both by ideological reasons and by incompetent judgements, not checked enough hypotheses, raised to the rank of truth and theories. Third, these are instrumental difficulties, connected with the fact that the process of drug spread acquired mass character, covered many sections of society, is a new and not researched earlier phenomenon, and methodological and methodical activity of scientists to a certain extent falls behind the requirements of research activity (not in the last place due to financial problems) and is complicated by the field under examination being on the “crossjunction of sciences”. Finally, the fourth latent factor is connected with the fact that the spread of drugs in society is evaluated as a socially negative process, which leaves an imprint on information flows, and behavior of agents who are carriers of the necessary information. Spread of illegal drugs is under control of state institutions: medical, law-enforcement. Legal norms of rigid frame type were officially established; preventive measures, police operations, prosecution of those involved in illegal turnover of drugs. Agents of the process, due to the circumstances and methods of state control, have motives for concealing information which is subject of sociological research and which sociologists have the right to rely on. It gives rise to additional problems when preparing for field works. In particular, one has to take into consideration “the resistance of the field” and to look for “fine” methods of data collection. Latent sociological processes, which include spread of illegal drugs, have general information and social structure resembling a pyramid. The top of the pyramid — social groups, reflected in statistics and various official registrations, for example, drug addicts, registered in medical institutions or the police. “Latent strata”, for example, not registered drug addicts, drug consumers, groups of risk are located below. The building of this pyramid pertains to methodological part of work. This procedure makes easy the search of methodic means. The general rule is in the relevancy of methods to the content of latent stratum; the sociologist may choose tools out of the store of qualitative and quantitative methods, depending upon the character of the latent stratum. For research the spread of drugs in mass youth environment, in educational institutions, sociological measurement with the help of quantitative methods, various poll technologies are the adequate means.

Quantitative Method

The author (with certain changes) uses methods under consideration since 1995 for measuring quantitative indices of the process of spread of drugs among young people. The methods are oriented on the research of “lower” strata of latent pyramid — risk groups and normal youth environment, students of educational institutions. They are based on the principles of poll technologies presupposing the obtaining of representative data in the process of mass sample poll. The methods devote greater attention to the problem of anonymity and confidence when collecting initial sociological information. Instruments let measure indices of three types: 1) facts of behavior (first of all, facts of addictive behavior); 2) facts of consciousness (knowledge, evaluations, opinions, judgements of respondents on the problem of drugs); 3) facts of social environment (social connections, contacts with people who are carriers and transmitters of drug culture). The scenario of the questionnaire assumes that the respondent answers the questions of expert type first, the questions referring to the environment, and then gradually passes to the main (according to our point of view) questions, requiring frank answers from a young man. The central term of the poll — “drugs”. This notion doesn’t have one meaning even among specialists, has various shades of sense and meaning, which are strengthened when the notion is used with the words “legal” and “illegal” or “soft” or “hard”. The structural operationalization of the term “drugs” — compulsory element of the poll technology. To measure the levels of spread of drug culture and addictive behavior we have formed two lists of drugs. The first one (indications 33–57) — is for measuring the cognitive aspect, i.e. the spread of knowledge about drugs among young people, the effect of drugs and the way they are used. The list includes both official and slang names, including synonymous ones. The second list (indications 58–76) is somewhat smaller, it is for registration of facts of addictive behavior, frequency of drug tests (or absence of the latter). Each position in the list strictly corresponds to a definite type of drugs. The numbers of additional slang names helping respondents to identify their behavior are given in some positions. The text gives the description of drug types, the instruments operate with. this operationalization justified itself. For example, in 1999 poll (n = 1000) to direct question : “Have you ever tasted drugs?” the following distribution of answers was received: “Yes” — 31.4%, “No” — 66.8%; “Hard to answer” — 1.8%. The sorting out of questionnaires by the indications 58–76 (the questionnaires with at least one fact of drug use) gave essentially different result: 48.8% of respondents have tested at least once! The methods in use let fix the level of submersion of young people into drug culture even in those cases when a respondent doesn’t say about the facts of non- medical use of drugs. With this purpose the aggregated index, which sums up the group of indices, is used. Similar calculations were made in 1997. Drugs of 23 names were under consideration, both cognitive and behaviorist aspects were taken into account, and 17 indications of other kind as well. For example, we took into consideration whether a respondent has seen a man in the intoxication condition or whether he has acquaintances (close or distant) abusing drugs, whether he met drug dealers, whether he was in the situation when somebody was taking drugs in his presence, etc. Depending on the answers, the respondents were given points (from 0–4) by each index, and these points were summed up later. The research fixed rather mixed picture: the range of “poisoning” in points stretched from 0 to 90 units. The average point of the whole massive was 18.4. This index is rather suitable for comparison of selective massifs. For example, you can clearly see the difference in the level of “poisoning” among young males and females, whose average points are 20.9 and 16.4 correspondingly. From the point of view of “topography” of a city, multi storied bedroom neighborhoods (average point is 20.1); center of a city — 17.0; private sector, remote from a center — 15.5 point. Noticeably higher is the average index of “poisoning” in that group of young people who don’t have full parent family. So, those respondents, living only with a mother, an average sum of points is 22.7. The data show that “submersion into drug culture” rises with the growth of income and fall of academic progress.


Functions and tasks of monitoring and problems of methodology and organization of periodic measurements are under consideration. The author made three monitoring polls of Kharkiv students in 1995, 1997, 1999. The beginning of monitoring was at the time when access of young people to illegal drugs has already acquired mass character and the process acquired regularity of a “snow ball”. In 1995 the poll fixed 22.0% of those questioned who had at least once tested addictive substances from the offered list of drugs toxic substances and psychotropic preparations. In 1997 this share increased on 11.6% and was 33.6%; the research of 1999 discovered that the indicated group expanded to 48.8%.

So, average annual increase of the group for four years was 6.7%. The poll fixed the growth of indirect indices showing the spread of narcoculture among young people. So, positive answers to the question: “Have you ever seen drug intoxicated man?” were given correspondingly by 64.8%, 73.3%, 78.9% of those questioned.

The share of respondents having acquaintances abusing drugs, in the polls of 1995, 1997, 1999 was: 59.1%, 62.1%, 68.7%. It noticeably decreases in respect to those drugs, which were widely spread during the last years. The experience of monitoring shows that all indices may be divided into three groups: 1) the basic indices which are necessary to be included into each poll, 2) indices, which can be used for control of a situation with a longer period, than the period of monitoring, for example to make repeated measurements in four years and not in two years, 3) “situational” indices which are included into a poll one time to check that or some other statistical hypothesis.

The method of retrospective measurement

Under the term of “retrospective empirical sociological research” we understand a scientific survey of the past with the help of modern polling technologies. The method is based on the ability of human memory to keep important events of a biography during all following life. The initial gnosiological situation preceding the use of the method is that there is an absence of sociological, scientifically valid information on the specific problem. In other words, 10, 20 or 30 years ago this or that problem was not under study, and at present the corresponding information is necessary for building scientific models, proofs, verification of hypotheses etc. For realization of the method there were chosen five historical epochs and correspondingly five age groups of Kharkiv population. The object of the research was those inhabitants of the city who were from 20 to 24 years old in 1959, 1969, 1979, 1989, 1999, and they were living in Kharkiv. It gave the possibility to obtain retrospective data with the conventional period of 10 years. The sample is limited by men and that is dictated by our desire to obtain significant data with minimum expenses. Five samples, 500 units of observation each, were formed to obtain representative data to which men of 1935–1939, 1945–1949, 1955–1959, 1965–1969, 1975–1979 years of birth correspondingly were chosen.

The level of education was chosen as an additional element of stratification of sample. The set of tools was developed on the basis of methodology used for monitoring. The data show that the acuteness of the drug problem in the consciousness of population is steadily increasing and is already surpassing the problem of alcohol. The social (and individual) harm from alcohol remains objectively much bigger than from illegal drugs. We fixed psychological phenomenon of the alarmist consciousness that reacts stronger to new dangers. The selection of forms where there are positive answers to the questions about trials of specific substances gives different picture, more “objective”. It is like this: 1959 — 11.4%; 1969 — 11.8%; 1979 — 20.6%; 1989 —28.7%; 1999 — 55.8% of young people tried at least one substance from the offered list of drugs of psychotropic preparations. The indices may vary in the range from 0 (absence of drug test) to 5 (regular consumption). This table clearly demonstrates a few peculiarities of the drug spread process. First, general frequency of trying increased in average 10 times. Second, the field of illegal drugs expanded sharply, i.e. of drugs in illegal turnover. Third, clear tendency of mass acquaintance of young people with soft drugs of cannaboid group and gradual drawing of the part of youths into systematic smoking of “grass” were outlined. Using the retrospective method for reconstruction of dynamics of drug spread in Kharkiv region, we came to some significant conclusions in respect to the character and rate of the process. Deeply latently and limited in scale the problem of drugs existed during after the Second World War period. The vector of dynamics was always directed to growing of drug presence among young people. In the 80-s the threat of epidemic appeared for the first time, at the same time the character of “infection” of the youth environment changed: the wide spread of cannabis took the first place. In this way, we have today an epidemic situation of a cannaboid type with mass involvement of young people into the “subculture of marijuana”.

The experience of transnational measurement

The retrospective poll let us draw the curtain of the past. It made clear the character of changes, vector and rate of dynamics during 50–90-ies. There is a principal possibility to look into the future, using comparative sociological research. The transnational research takes into consideration the asynchronous character of epidemic process, the earlier beginning of the epidemic in the West. Within the framework of the international project we have realized a transnational experiment in October-November 1999 in Dresden (Germany) and Kharkiv (Ukraine) The methods of sociological measurement developed in the University of Internal Affairs (Kharkiv) for monitoring of drug spread among young people were assumed as a basis. The adaptation of instruments for its use in Germany was done in the process of research preparation. For comparative research the method of sociological poll in the form of questionnaire was chosen. Within monitoring described above, 407 students from five higher educational establishments (41.3% — men, 58.7% — women) were questioned in Kharkiv, the method of group questionnaire in academic groups was used, the groups were selected on the basis of random sample. There was poll of 161 students of Dresden Technical University (43.5% — men, 56.5% — women) in Dresden. The poll was made both in groups and with the use of the method of “a snowball”. The structure of illegal drugs, accessible to young people in common for Dresden and Kharkiv: cannabis (marijuana) is prevailing in Dresden. According to our poll, 54.7% of respondents used this drug, at least once in their life, and in Kharkiv — 42.9% of the questioned students. The use of the “hard” drugs in student circles of Dresden and Kharkiv is rather episodic and has a limited character. The factor of other people and groups of people influence was dominating both in Kharkiv and Dresden The research confirmed that in Dresden the epidemic reached higher phase for example 6.2% of young people pointed out that they smoked “grass” on a regular basis, and in Kharkiv — this group made only 1.2% of those questioned students. 87.5% of the students of Dresden “often” and “regularly” discuss the topic of drugs in their circle and this index is rather modest with the Kharkiv students — 10.4%. Dresden inhabitants are well informed about various kinds of drugs, their properties and differences. There are general epidemic regularities. If Dresden in this respect practically reached the peak, then maximum phase of epidemic process in Kharkiv is expected in 5–6 years. With the development of epidemic process the attitude of young people to drug problem significantly changes. We established that the level of alarm as to the spread of drugs is rather connected not with the level of their spread but with the time of the beginning of an epidemic. As the first phases of the epidemic become the thing of the past, the alarmist mood is falling, but at the beginning- they are expressed more boldly.

Dresden inhabitants, despite their higher epidemic phase, have rather quiet attitude to the drug problem, the index of alarm is even lower than in relation to alcoholism. Together with this, the consumption of alcohol by the students of both countries doesn’t have significant difference. Further rather significant difference is in the attitude of young people to drug addicts. To measure this index the modification of the Bogardus scale of social distance and Likert scaling were used.

The starting (alarmist) phase of epidemic produces fear, sharp rejection of drug addicts and those, who take drugs.

Later on the estimates become softer, more weighed attitude of the population to drug addicts is established. Differences in the phases of epidemic process require more attentive attitude to the methods of prevention. At the same time, practically all questioned students both in Dresden and in Kharkiv think that young people need talks, explanations on the harm of drugs. But, undoubtedly, the content of prevention must take into consideration a national specific character. For example, the research showed that the people of Dresden are better informed about drugs, they have certain stereotypes formed, different from the views of the people of Kharkiv on the problem. Today, some international, first of all, American organizations are trying to spread their technologies, connected with prevention of drugs. Their mechanical realization without adaptation to local conditions will not bring the desired result. More productive tactics is the development of methods of prevention, based on precise understanding of a situation, data of sociological polls, consideration of local traditions and mentality.

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