The war on drugs has been very inefficient in decreasing addiction while spending has risen steadily each year.
Steps are being taken to help rectify this, but it’s not enough. Brute force police crackdowns have been the United States government’s primary method of quelling the ongoing drug crisis, even though decades-old research has proven that drug abuse treatments are much more cost-effective and long-lasting.
In 1995, a study by RAND Corporation—a non-profit think tank dedicated to improving government policies through research and analysis—laid out the problem, specifically focusing on the cocaine epidemic. Though the number of cocaine users had gone down from 12 million in the 1980s to five million in 1992, the total amount of cocaine consumed remained the same as its mid-1980s peak. The number of heavy users – defined as individuals who used once a week or more – was growing. Essentially, this meant that while the participants may have changed, the drug trade and its consequences remained the same.
By looking at the annual cost of reducing cocaine consumption by 1% a year through various programs – including domestic enforcement, control in source countries, interdiction at borders, and treatment for drug abuse – some pretty decisive results were found. To wit, an increase of $34-million per year for treatment was easily the most cost-effective way to cut consumption by that average 1%. For comparison’s sake, the second most economically efficient method—local law enforcement—would cost an increase of more than five times that amount, and the most expensive—cutting supplies at the source—almost 20 times. And it keeps people off drugs more readily than punishment too, as 80% of individuals in treatment programs stay off drugs during treatment, and about 13% of heavy users either stop using entirely or greatly reduce their amount of cocaine usage.