Data Sorely Lacking on Effectiveness of Nation's Drug-Enforcement Programs
The assessment of enforcement activities is severely hampered by an absence of adequate, reliable data on both drug consumption and the actual cost of illegal drugs, the report points out. Such data are critical because a major goal of enforcement is to reduce drug supply and drive up costs, thereby cutting consumption. Work should begin immediately to develop better methods for obtaining both types of data.
"Neither the necessary data systems nor the research infrastructure to gauge the usefulness of drug-control enforcement policies currently exists," said Charles F. Manski, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and Board of Trustees Professor in Economics, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill. "It is unconscionable for this country to continue to carry out a public policy of this magnitude and cost without any way of knowing whether, and to what extent, it is having the desired result. Our committee strongly recommends that a substantial, new, and robust research effort be undertaken to examine the various aspects of drug control, so that decision-making on these issues can be better supported by more factual and realistic evidence."
Accurate information on how much drugs cost also is needed to better comprehend how drug users respond to price changes. Although the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other law-enforcement agencies collect some price information, these data do not provide a solid foundation for analyzing the causes and consequences of fluctuations. Current enforcement policy has indeed increased drug prices relative to what they otherwise would be, but the magnitude of the increase is not known. Moreover, there is little understanding of which policy components have brought about this result, the extent to which higher costs have decreased consumption, or which drug users have been most affected.
Better data alone, however, will not boost the country's understanding of effective drug-enforcement policy. The committee called for additional research on the extent to which producers and traffickers thwart enforcement in one geographic area by moving their smuggling routes or production elsewhere. Furthermore, research is needed to determine how the effects of supply-reduction activities should be measured, and to pinpoint the typical time lag between successful enforcement operations and changes in the way that producers and traffickers conduct business.
A rational drug policy also must take into account the costs and benefits of drug penalties, the committee said. For example, the relationship between the severity of penalties and the initiation and termination of drug use should be researched.
As part of its work, the committee reviewed studies on the value of a wide range of prevention activities and found mixed results. Some prevention efforts do appear to be helpful in delaying the initiation of drug use or reducing the frequency of marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol use among minors. However, because most attention has been focused on evaluating school-based approaches, the success of many other strategies is unknown, the committee said.
At the same time, many popular programs -- such as "zero tolerance" projects -- have not been evaluated at all, or have been found to have little impact on illegal drug use, as in the case of D.A.R.E. Yet large sums of public funds continue to be allocated for programs whose effectiveness is unknown or known to be limited, the committee noted. Given such trends, current efforts to evaluate drug-prevention strategies should be significantly improved.
Date: March 29, 2001
(I used this report to make my point in tackling NZ1st MP Wollerton in his wishywashy analysis of recently retired Green MP Nandor Tanczos excellent commentary )
Blair Anderson ‹(•¿•)›