Date: March 29, 2001 Contacts: Vanee Vines, Media Relations Associate Kathi McMullin, Media Relations Assistant (202) 334-2138; e-mail <email@example.com>
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Data Sorely Lacking on Effectiveness of Nation's Drug-Enforcement Programs
WASHINGTON -- Although the federal government invests about $12 billion each year in drug-enforcement programs, scant data exist to determine their effectiveness. Federal spending on such research amounts to less than $1 for every $100 set aside for enforcement. As a result, the nation's ability to evaluate whether its drug policies work is no better now than it was 20 years ago, when drug-control efforts began to accelerate, says a new report from the National Research Council of the National Academies.
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."
In 1998 the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy asked the committee to review the entire range of data and research that might inform policy on illegal drugs, and explore ways to integrate findings from diverse disciplines to enhance understanding of drug abuse and of the operation of drug markets. The following year, the committee released a Phase I report that assessed two prominent cocaine-control studies and found neither adequate to serve as the basis for public policy. This final report offers general conclusions about overall research gaps and makes recommendations to close them.
Enforcement activities, in the committee's view, comprise not only domestic efforts aimed at prohibiting the manufacture, sale, possession, or use of illegal drugs, but also international policies to reduce the supply of drugs through crop eradication and the disruption of drug trafficking. As measured by spending, enforcement activities now represent the primary thrust of U.S. drug-control policies, the report says. Between 1981 and 1999, the country's expenditures in this area jumped more than tenfold. Additionally, U.S. Department of Justice statistics from 1998 show that 1.6 million people had been arrested for drug offenses, three times as many as in 1980. And 289,000 drug offenders were incarcerated in state prisons, 12 times the number in 1980.
But such enforcement measures often are embraced without the benefit of scientific evidence indicating whether they can indeed make much of a difference, or any at all. Existing surveys do not collect enough information to shed sufficient light on how drug markets operate, the committee said. Current surveys also do not illuminate the dynamics of how users begin to consume drugs, how they decide to step up their use, and what factors play a role in their decision to quit. In addition to addressing these gaps, surveys should obtain details about the quantity of drug consumption to more accurately estimate overall consumption rates -- a key factor in determining the economic vitality of illegal drug markets.
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.
The study was sponsored by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides independent advice on science and technology issues under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL Division on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Committee on Data and Research for Policy on Illegal Drugs
Charles F. Manski (chair) Board of Trustees Professor of Economics Department of Economics Northwestern University Evanston, Ill.
James Anthony Professor Departments of Mental Hygiene and Epidemiology School of Public Health, and Professor Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences School of Medicine Johns Hopkins University Baltimore
Alfred Blumstein1 J. Erik Jonsson Professor of Urban Systems and Operations Research H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh
Richard J. Bonnie2 John S. Battle Professor of Law School of Law, and Director Institute of Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy University of Virginia Charlottesville
Jeanette Covington Associate Professor Department of Sociology Rutgers University New Brunswick, N.J.
Denise C. Gottfredson Professor Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology University of Maryland College Park
Philip B. Heymann James Barr Ames Professor Harvard Law School; Professor John F. Kennedy School of Government; and Director Center for Criminal Justice Harvard University Cambridge, Mass.
Joel L. Horowitz Henry B. Tippie Research Professor of Economics Department of Economics University of Iowa Iowa City
Robert J. MacCoun Associate Professor of Public Policy Department of Public Policy Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy University of California Berkeley
Mark H. Moore Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy and Management John F. Kennedy School of Government Harvard University Cambridge, Mass.
William D. Nordhaus A. Whitney Griswold Professor of Economics Department of Economics Yale University New Haven, Conn.
Charles P. O'Brien2 Professor and Vice Chair of the Psychiatry Treatment Research Center, and Chief of Psychiatry VA Medical Center University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia
Robert H. Porter William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Economics Department of Economics Northwestern University, and Research Associate National Bureau of Economic Research Evanston, Ill.
Paul R. Rosenbaum Professor of Statistics Department of Statistics Wharton School University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia
James Q. Wilson James Collins Professor of Management Department of Political Science University of California Los Angeles
RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF
Carol V. Petrie Study Director
1 Member, National Academy of Engineering 2 Member, Institute of Medicine