Fixing National Drug Control Policy

A new drug policy brief is getting some attention:

Decades of research has taught us a good deal about the ingredients of a successful national drug control strategy. Achieving any measure of progress requires a comprehensive agenda involving treatment, prevention, domestic law enforcement, interdiction, and source country initiatives. But these ingredients are not all of equal value and represent very different returns on investment.

Attacking drugs at their source by focusing mostly on eradication is expensive and unproductive….

Investing in prevention and treatment is a more effective means of reducing drug demand and use. However, the scale and scope of substance abuse treatment must be greatly expanded to further mitigate drug use and addiction. Community based treatment programs, as well as prevention programs, such as Drug Free Communities and Weed and Seed, are particularly valuable in this regard. In addition, research shows that diversion programs, such as drug courts, that emphasize treatment over incarceration and use the coercive power of the criminal justice system in a productive way, are effective and should be greatly expanded.

A small portion of the drug-using population—specifically those who are addicted—consume well over two-thirds of the illicit drugs that law enforcement tries to prevent from entering the United States. Helping these individuals to stop using drugs would substantially reduce the quantity of drugs demanded by the marketplace. In other words: Good treatment policy is smart supply reduction policy.

The goals implicit in a national drug control strategy should drive the federal drug control budget….But instead we have a budget that over-weights source country and interdiction initiatives while under-weighting their domestic law enforcement, prevention, and treatment counterparts. According to the latest budget numbers, funding for supply reduction has increased by nearly 57 percent since federal fiscal year 2002 and now represents nearly two-thirds of the total federal drug control budget. By comparison, funding for demand reduction grew by less than 3 percent over this same period of time and now represents about one-third of the federal drug control budget. While resources for substance abuse treatment increased by 22 percent, resources for prevention programs actually declined by almost 25 percent.

The implications are clear: Any new administration must ensure that there is a match between the goals of the federal drug control strategy and the budget to support it.