Drugs, alcohol, and the NRC…

In this blog, we present the main findings of our fact checking report. The articles were chosen from news website NRC.nl. As a group, we chose a central theme for the articles to pick. As a result, all articles are somehow drug related. For each article, a short description of the story is followed by our conclusion. Fact checking wasn’t always easy, only some journalists responded to our e-mails and some articles gave more reasons to doubt them than others. Overall, this was an interesting project and it was good fun to chase after the facts. The NRC, as expected though, turns out to be a reliable source for information. Presenting more information than most other news media and being right 99% of the time with some small things left open for debate.


Strafrechtstraat berecht 39 ADE-gangers voor drugsbezit

Arrestanten hadden voor het eerst de mogelijkheid ter plekke te overleggen met een advocaat.

 Link to the article

This article was about arrests for drug possession during the Amsterdam Dance Event. On the 23th of October,  the NRC wrote a story about this event, that attracts thousands of people from all over the world. In 2014 there was a lot of buzz about drug use during ADE, because three people had died from the consequences of an overdose or misuse of drugs.

The NRC reported the following numbers:

  • 39 people were arrested and convicted for the possession of drugs
  • According to the NRC this was the first time during dance events that people had the possibility to consult a lawyer on the spot when they were arrested
  • Police halted 176 people during the event
  • 116 of these people were from abroad

At first sight these numbers didn’t seem questionable. However, the reason to doubt these numbers in the first place, was that it was a bit doubtful how these specific numbers were found and obtained. An official letter from the Minister of Justice and Safety to The House of Representatives was found on the official website of the Government. The Minister confirmed the numbers NRC.nl presented.

It seems that eventually most figures mentioned by NRC were actually correct. It is not clear how the NRC came up with the  numbers about foreign visitors being arrested. Possibly the numbers were confirmed from a source within the Public Prosecution Service or the Police, but did the NRC choose not to mention the name of the source or were they just not allowed to do so.


‘Toename crystal meth in Nederland’

Drugs Hulpverleners zien een toename van crystal-meth-gebruik. Vooral in de gayscene is de drug populair. De prijs daalt en dat is een gevaar.

Link to the article


The title indicates that there is a general increase of crystal meth use in the Netherlands. The journalist chose a misleading title, because the subtitle mentions a certain part demographic part of the Dutch population, the gay scene.  Mainly, the question was if the journalist used multiple sources to support the story about the increase of crystal meth use. The sample size of interviewees, being 27, was quite small as well, raising some doubts about the story in general.

After fact checking this article, the conclusion was that most of the facts and questions mentioned in the article are true, but the main title was generalizing the Dutch people and therefor, misleading.  Although it is true that the use of crystal meth is increasing in the Netherlands, this is only true for one subgroup.


Nederlanders smokkelden voor miljarden met ambulance

De mannen deden alsof ze patiënten vervoerden naar het ziekenhuis. Ze huurden neppatiënten in.

Link to the article

The next article  from the NRC website was about Dutch smugglers who used ambulances dozens of times to transport hard drugs like cocaine, heroin and XTC-pills to the United Kingdom. After cross checking with other media, some facts didn’t seem to add up, or discrepancy’s were found. Some of these facts had drawn the attention even more. The NRC mentioned that the police, amongst all other drugs, seized 20000 XTC-pills. When crosschecking with other media, there wasn’t any information about the 20000 XTC-pills to be found anywhere. When adding up the total amount of drugs that was seized, the XTC-pills seem to be left out of the equation.

Also, the numbers of vehicles in the fleet of ambulances varied between media. Consulting the article by the NCA (National Crime Agency of the U.K) and looking at different pictures of the vehicles, indicated that there were at least ten vehicles in the fleet.The journalist also wrote that that Olof S. and Richard E. had already been convicted for smuggling drugs. This conviction could not be found.

The journalist based her statements about this conviction on information provided by press agencies ANP, AP and Reuters. The bigger part of the story was based on the article by the NCA. She didn’t have time to do any more fact checking and on top of that, she did not fact check what the press agencies had sent her. The information by the press agencies, unfortunately is material only sent to media organizations like the NRC and cannot be checked by individuals.

Although this was where the fact checking journey ended and questions were left unanswered (for instance about the convictions), with the NCA, ANP, AP and Reuters behind the story, we must conclude that the information is based on solid evidence.

Jongeren kopen veel minder vaak alcohol

Toch drinkt meer dan de helft van de 16- en 17-jarigen nog steeds. Zij krijgen de drank van oudere vrienden.

Link to the article

The fourth article we investigated, was this  article is about alcohol buying and alcohol use by adolescents in the age of 16 or 17 year old.This article described how many people in this age group still manage to get alcohol and drink alcoholic beverages on a regular basis.  On January 1st, 2015, national law stated that people below 18 were not allowed to drink anymore. This article explained how the usage of alcohol by adolescents has changed.

After cross checking with other news media and  about adolescents and alcohol, two numbers in the NRC article raised our attention in particular. This was the case, because they differed from what the numbers research bureau Intraval had found.

  • More than 75 % of adolescents let older friends buy alcohol for them, opposed to 60 %  according to the research bureau
  • 40 percent gets alcohol from their parents, opposed to 51 % according to Intraval

Unfortunately, contacting the NRC journalist did not lead to a response. Ideally we would have got an answer about the differences we found. The differences in percentages, respectively 15% and 11% are too large to ignore.

Kwart miljoen Nederlanders gebruikt xtc

Link to the article

The last article that was subject to our fact checking, was an article about the use of XTC by Dutch citizens. According to the article,  a quarter million of Dutch people uses xtc. The article focuses on the drug use amongst the Dutch population, while the emphasis of the focus lies on the hard drug xtc.

The article consists of many numbers and statistics. However, there were some statements that raised some doubts. These doubts were raised by critical and skeptical reading,  rather than by dodgy suspicions. It already started with the title of the article, drawing the wrong image. By saying: ‘a quarter of a million Dutch people uses xtc’, it can be perceived as frequently and habitual. This seems misleading, because the 250.000 people are Dutch men and women between the ages of 15 and 65 who have used xtc in the past year. However, this also includes people who may have literally done it once for ‘experimenting’ reasons. The title leaves space for varying perceptions, which can be inconvenient. On the other hand, when the intention with the headline is to draw attention, it might be effective.

For this article, eight out of nine facts that were checked  turned out to be correct. There was one fact where the author referred to a quarter of the population, which turned out to be 24,3%. It might be debatable to put that percentage in those words, but understandable from a writer’s perspective. There was one fact that lead to a link with an error message. Due to this remarkable situation, that fact could not be checked via the link in the article. This link was supposed to lead to a research conducted by the Trimbos institute. Despite the mediocre communication with the author, the article turned out to be reliable and not exaggerating about the numbers.