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Family Privacy Protection Act May Interfere with Drug Education and Prevalence of Use Research



On April 4, the Family Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 1271) passed the House of Representatives on a vote of 417-7. The legislation, which is now awaiting action in the Senate, has drug educators and surveyors concerned that the bill threatens their work (Otis Pike, Newhouse News Service Syndicated Columnist, "Family Privacy Act goes too far," May 22, 1996; Barbara Vobejda, "Family Privacy Measure Opposed by Researchers," Washington Post, June 20, 1996, p. A25).

Reseachers, such as the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center, object to the bill's restrictions that, "a person may not, without prior written consent of at least one parent or guardian of a minor ... require or otherwise seek the response of a minor to a survey or questionnaire which is intended to elicit ... information concerning any of the following ... [circumstances including] illegal, antisocial, or self-incriminating behavior."

Many drug researchers, including Lloyd Johnston, see years of federally supported research on youth drug use undermined. William Butz, Associate Director for the Bureau of the Census, testified that "prior written consent" would reduce response rates, increase costs and/or increase survey bias.

The ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, Rep. Caroline Maloney (D-NY), argued that the bill, as amended, would "destroy information vital to solving some of the problems facing our country today" and "block surveys from ever being performed, specifically ... rising teen pregnancy, drug abuse and suicide."

Sally Katzen, Administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB, questioned if consent is necessary to protect the privacy of the respondent and their family given that federally funded surveys, with few exceptions, are conducted anonymously.

Parent and drug education groups concerned with the House bill, as passed, include the Atlanta-based Parents Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE), which surveys drug use in 5,500 school systems, the Ohio Parents for Drug-Free Youth, and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which sponsors advertising campaigns against drug use.

Compromise language is being discussed in Senate consideration which would allow responsible and objective researchers to continue to survey youth drug use.