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Comparing apples and oranges: investigating the utility of indexes as a measure of drug policy

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Date Commenced:
June 2015
Expected Date of Completion:
March 2019
Project Supporters:

DPMP Scholarship

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Project Main Description: 

This is a PhD project of Vivienne Moxham-Hall (supervised by Professor Alison Ritter and Dr Caitlin Hughes) investigating the utility of indexes as a measure of drug policy. Indexes are the quantification of multi-dimensional complex issues into a single summable score and have been employed in many different fields. Two notable examples are; the Human Development Index and the Global Peace Index. Benefits of indexes include: uniting multiple dimensions of an issue into one score and enabling the monitoring or benchmarking of changes in policy platforms over time and place.

This project will provide a rigorous investigation of the different approaches to index development, validation, and policy-analysis for drug policy through the creation of two distinct indexes; one of recreational cannabis laws in Australia and one of opioid overdose prevention laws in the United States of America. The development of these two indexes will enable the quantification of the multiple laws that make up a legislative framework into a single score which can be used to assess the cumulative impacts of these laws over time and/or place. In testing the utility of this method, we will investigate whether an index can answer research questions such as; what are the comparative impacts of cannabis laws across the Australian states and territories, and do opioid overdose prevention laws have an impact on opioid overdose rates in the U.S.?


This research will have implications for understanding the utility of indexes for drug policy measurement, as well as understanding the impacts of different legislative approaches to cannabis and opioids. As yet the use of indexes for the measurement of drug policy has not been fully investigated but there is a potential for them to be useful to researchers, policy-makers and advocates in the field.


The aim of this project is to test the utility of index development, validation and application for drug policy measurement through two indexes. Each index will measure different aspects of drug policy and explore alternative index development approaches. This will enable a reflection on the possible best practices, application and practicality of indexes should anyone wish to develop them further for the measurement of drug policy.

Design and Method: 

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) developed a handbook for index construction, which provides a guide to the necessary steps for index development; theoretical framework, data selection, imputation of missing data, multivariate analysis, normalisation, weighting and aggregation, uncertainty and sensitivity analysis, review of the data, links to other indicators and visualization of the results.

This project will investigate an inventory approach (cannabis) and an existing database approach (opioid overdose) to index construction. Each index will then be refined, validated and applied in policy analysis.


Preliminary findings of the Australian Cannabis Law Index were presented at the International Society for Drug Policy Conference in May 2016.


Peer reviewed journal articles:

Moxham-Hall, V. and Ritter, A.  (2017) Indexes as a Metric for Drug and Alcohol Policy Evaluation and Assessment, Journal of World and Medical Health Policy, 9(1): 103-126.

Conference Presentations:

Moxham-Hall, V., Ritter, A. (2016, May) Indexes as a Metric for Drug and Alcohol Policy Evaluation and Assessment, presented at the 10th International Society for the Study of Drug Policy, Sydney

Moxham-Hall, V., Hughes, C., Ritter, A. (2017, May) The Development and Application of an Australian Cannabis Law Index, presented at the 11th International Society for the Study of Drug Policy, Aarhus, Denmark


An index simplifies and captures multiple dimensions of an issue in a single indicator. By providing the first, tested index of drug policy, this will show whether indexes have utility for drug policy measurement and evaluation. In doing this and applying the two created indexes to cannabis laws in Australia and opioid overdose laws in the United States, this project will also provide new insights into the impact of different legislative frameworks.

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