Brazilian government accused of suppressing data that would call its war on drugs into question

Source: Science Magazine

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL—Is Brazil experiencing a drug epidemic? The answer to that question has spiraled into a legal battle between scientists and government officials over the release of a national drug use survey done by the renowned Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Researchers familiar with the study accuse government officials of suppressing publication of the survey because it contradicts a political assertion that drug abuse is a growing and widespread problem in Brazil.

Commissioned in 2014 by the National Secretariat for Drug Policies (SENAD), the third National Survey on Drug Use by the Brazilian Population interviewed 16,000 people in more than 350 cities about their consumption of legal and illegal substances. FIOCRUZ concluded the study in late 2017, but SENAD never authorized public release of the results, leaving scientists and public health officials in the dark about the current landscape of substance abuse in Brazil. The previous national survey is from 2005. SENAD’s official justification for withholding the data is that FIOCRUZ didn’t follow the sampling methodology specified in the funding call, making the results incomparable with previous surveys—a claim that FIOCRUZ strongly contests.

The dispute started during the administration of Brazil’s previous, very conservative president, Michel Temer, and has continued under current, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, a fierce defender of the “war on drugs” and the criminalization of drug use.