National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) was founded in 1992 by former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph A. Califano, Jr. Its official mission is to “inform Americans of the economic and social costs of substance abuse and its impact on their lives; assess what works in prevention, treatment, and law enforcement; encourage every individual and institution to take responsibility to combat substance abuse and addiction; provide those on the front lines with the tools they need to suceed; and remove the stigma of abuse and replace shame and despair with hope.”
The Center was founded with $8 million in start-up funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and received another $13 million grant from the foundation in 1998. The organization is based at Columbia University in New York City.
While CASA prides itself as a science-based research organization, it has produced several studies on alcohol that earned widespread criticism for poor methodology and suspect results.
CASA is often criticized for pursing an anti-alcohol agenda in its research. Even prominent members of the public health community have recognized the organization’s clear bias: Joseph McNamara, a former Kansas City and San Jose police chief and research fellow on drug control policy at Stanford University said, “What CASA does is present information in a kind of hysterical-crisis mode….It’s a propaganda war.” Drug Policy News commented that CASA has a “reputation among social science researchers for producing methodologically suspect work.” A fellow Columbia University researcher, Leah Rorvig, said that “The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) has questionable academic integrity.”
The Center does not subject its studies to the academic peer review process–the standard practice in the research community. Without allowing its studies to be examined by other researchers, it’s difficult for academics to uncover CASA’s methodology and substantiate the organization’s claims. Refusal to participate in peer review hasn’t stopped CASA from touting its studies and findings.
In 2002, CASA claimed that “underage drinkers account for 25 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the U.S.” This “finding” was quickly debunked by an article in The New York Times. Researchers reported that the actual proportion of underage drinkers was less than half of CASA’s published finding.
CASA also promulgated the statistic that “82.8 percent of adults who drink had their first drink of alcohol before age 21.” However, this statistic failed to take into account that a majority of today’s adults grew up in an era when the minimum legal drinking age was 18. The figures could also include adults who drank wine at communion before their 21st birthday and adults who visited any of the countless countries that have lower drinking ages than the U.S.’s comparably high threshold of 21.
The organization is no stranger to overblown rhetoric that lacks factual foundation. CASA claimed that “America has an underage drinking epidemic,” an argument that was once again debunked by The New York Times. Instead, the Times noted that “the proportion of teenagers who engage in binge drinking has declined… In 1998, 6.6 percent of girls and 8.7 percent of boys 12 to 17 reported binge drinking, compared with 11 percent of the girls and nearly 19 percent of the boys a decade earlier.”
Another of CASA’s claims, that one in four women on welfare were “abusing” alcohol or other drugs, was quickly squashed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Instead HHS found that the figure was 3 percent–or 22 percentage points lower than CASA’s claim.