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New Rhetoric, Same Failed Drug War
The Obama administration says that drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue. Yet both his budget and his drug policies continue to emphasize enforcement, prosecution and incarceration at home, and interdiction, eradication and military escalation abroad. Even what the government does spend on treatment and prevention is overstated, as many of its programs are wasteful and counterproductive. Drug War Policies Dominate Federal Drug Budget The federal drug war budget totaled more than $25 billion in 2012, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has requested an even larger budget for 2013.1 In addition to the federal budget, another $25 billion is spent at the state and local level on the war on drugs every year.2 A significant majority of this annual budget – 60 percent – is devoted to policies that attempt to reduce the supply of drugs, such as interdiction, eradication and domestic law enforcement. Only 40 percent is devoted to treatment, education and prevention – or what is commonly known as “demand reduction.” Treatment and education programs are far more effective than arrests and incarceration. The 2013 budget request is no different. It contains the same basic ratio of supply-to-demand – roughly 60:40. These distorted funding priorities have not changed significantly under the last several administrations. Supply reduction efforts have proven ineffective, costly and destructive, and have distracted from proven strategies to reduce the harms of drug misuse. Despite incarcerating tens of millions of people and spending more than a trillion dollars in the past forty years,3
drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available.
The drug war strategy also pulls any discussion of alternatives to failed prohibitionist policies off the table. While President Obama and other members of his administration have gone so far as to say that drug legalization is a legitimate topic for debate, the strategy itself disparages marijuana regulation, saying it “would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use.”5 Federal Drug War Budget, 1970-2013 $30,000 $25,000 $20,000 $15,000 $10,000 $5,000 $0
1970 1973 1976 1979 1982 1985 1988 1991 1994 1997 2000 2003 2006 2009 2012 Demand Reduction Supply Reduction Supply reduction = interdiction, eradication & law enforcement Demand reduction = education, prevention & treatment. [Note: Data collected prior to 2004 are not directly comparable to data from 2004-2013. Significant budget lines were removed from the calculation in 2002 and 2003, making 6 spending appear smaller than it was.]
Demand Reduction: Underfunded and Overstated The federal government simply refuses to prioritize proven demand reduction strategies, despite the U.S. being the largest consumer of drugs in the world. Effective treatment and education programs are far more efficient than arrests and incarceration. A seminal study by the RAND Corporation found that every dollar invested in drug treatment saves
Drug Policy Alliance | 131 West 33rd Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10001 firstname.lastname@example.org | 212.613.8020 voice | 212.613.8021 fax Page 1
taxpayers $7.46 in societal costs – a reduction that would cost 15 times as much in supply-side, law enforcement expenditure to achieve.7 Yet even what the government does spend on demand reduction is overstated, because many of these programs have been wasteful and unsuccessful.8 For example, several longstanding federal prevention programs – including the National Youth Anti-Drug Media campaign9 and Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program10 – have been found to be costly and ineffective, and might lead to unintended negative consequences. Much of the federal funding for treatment is actually funneled into the criminal justice system – which is far less effective than a health-based approach. Drug courts have not significantly reduced the likelihood of incarceration and have absorbed scarce resources better spent on demonstrated health approaches, such as community-based treatment.11 It is disingenuous for ONDCP to claim that wasting resources on failed, criminal justice approaches is “treatment”. It is not. The biggest problem we face isn't the use of drugs; it's the misuse of drugs. Decades of data have consistently shown that the vast majority of people who experiment with illegal drugs do not develop addiction or dependence. Arresting people who use drugs non-problematically and forcing them into treatment takes up resources that could be invested in helping people struggling with serious drug problems. People who use marijuana are much less likely to develop drug dependence but are increasingly forced into treatment by the criminal justice system – the source of more than half of all referrals to treatment for marijuana. Forcing people arrested for low-level drug law violations into treatment instead of prison is definitely not treating drug use as a health issue. Getting arrested should not be a requirement for receiving drug treatment. Conclusion President Obama and members of his administration say that drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue.12 Yet both his budget and his drug policies continue to emphasize enforcement, prosecution and incarceration at home, and interdiction, eradication and military escalation
abroad. After 40 years of failure, we need to invest in proven health-based strategies – not just talk about them. Instead of throwing more money at supply-side interventions that are proven failures, the Drug Policy Alliance advocates addressing the high U.S. demand for drugs by funding a diverse array of treatment models and effective drug education programs. Obama's Drug War Budget: More of the Same
$30 Billions $25 $20 $15 $10 $5 $0 2005 2013 (Bush) (Obama) Supply reduction = interdiction, eradication & law enforcement Demand reduction = education, prevention & treatment. 43% 41% Demand Reduction 57% 59% Supply Reduction
It's time we developed a comprehensive strategy for dealing with drug abuse in the 21st century by focusing on what works. We know what doesn't work: In the last 30 years, the number of Americans in prison has increased five times over. We have less than 5% of the world's population but almost 25% of its prison population. This isn’t a partisan issue. Facing massive budget deficits, both parties are searching for alternatives to prison for people who use drugs – because locking them up is only making us poorer, not safer. But thanks to decades of scientific research, we now know a lot about what does work. We know, for example, that for every dollar we spend on quality treatment for drug offenders, we get back several dollars in savings in the first year alone. It's time we treated people struggling with drug misuse the way we'd want to help a family member struggling with addiction to alcohol or other drugs: by using what works.
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Office of National Drug Control Policy, "National Drug Control Strategy: FY 2013 Funding Highlights" (Washington, DC: Office of the President, February 2012), http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/the-national-drug-controlbudget-fy-2013-funding-highlights. 2 Jeffrey A. Miron and Katherine Waldock, The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition (Cato Institute, 2010), http://www.cato.org/publications/white-paper/budgetaryimpact-ending-drug-prohibition. 3 Martha Mendoza, “U.S. drug war has met none of its goals: After 40 years and $1 trillion, drug use is rampant and violence pervasive,” Associated Press, May 13, 2010. 4 A. Fries et al., “The Price and Purity of Illicit Drugs: 19812007,” (Institute for Defense Analyses, July 2008) http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/price_purit y/price_purity07.pdf; and D. Boyum and P. Reuter, “An Analytic Assessment of U.S. Drug Policy,” (American Enterprise Institute Press, 2005): 77-78. 5 Office of National Drug Control Policy, “2012 National Drug Control Strategy" (Washington, DC: Office of the President, 2012): 5, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/ondcp/2012_ndc s.pdf 6 State University of New York at Albany, “Table 1.14.2012: Federal drug control budget By function, fiscal years 19962012,” Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics Online (2012), http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/pdf/t1142012.pdf; and Office of National Drug Control Policy, "National Drug Control Budget 2012 Summary,” ONDCP (April 2011): 5, http://www.whitehouse.gov//sites/default/files/page/files/fy201 2_budget_and_performance_summary.pdf. 7 C.P. Rydell and S.S. Everingham, Controlling Cocaine, Prepared for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the United States Army (Santa Monica, CA: Drug Policy Research Center, RAND Corporation, 1994) xvi. 8 Alex Wodak, “Demand Reduction and Harm Reduction, Working Paper Prepared for the First Meeting of the Global Commission on Drug Policy,” (January 2011), http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/Arquivos/Global_Co m_Alex_Wodak.pdf. 9 Government Accountability Office, Contractor’s National Evaluation Did Not Find That the Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign Was Effective in Reducing Youth Drug Use, (August 2006). 10 Government Accountability Office, “Letter to Senator Richard Durbin, Youth Illicit Drug Use Prevention: DARE Long-Term Evaluations and Federal Efforts to Identify Effective Programs,” (January 15, 2003); and Steven West and Keri O’Neil, “Project D.A.R.E. Outcome Effectiveness Revisited” American Journal of Public Health 94 (2004): 1027-29. 11 Drug Policy Alliance, Drug Courts Are Not the Answer: Toward a Health-Centered Approach to Drug Use (2011), http://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/Drug%20Courts% 20Are%20Not%20the%20Answer_Final2.pdf. 12 For example, Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy, said in May 2012 that “we must address our drug problem as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue.” (David Morgan, “Data suggests drug treatment can lower U.S. crime,” Reuters (May 17, 2012),
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