The War on Drugs has been a Huge Failure with Massive Unintended Consequences

This webcast takes a look at our experience with the so-called “war on drugs.” The war on drugs has been a huge failure with massive unintended consequences. Policy needs to take into account results. We have some minor attempts to do this but overall the war on drugs has led to increasing damage as we increase the war without considering the results.

Related: Funding Drug Addiction Treatment Would Cost 1/7 the Cost of the Current Criminal System Focused PolicyReducing Harm Due to Drug Use Should be the Aim, Not WarDrug Treatment Funding Can More Than Pay For Itself With Reduced Crime Costs

Funding Drug Addiction Treatment Would Cost 1/7 the Cost of the Current Criminal System Focused Policy

Treatment: Effective (But Unpopular) Weapon Against Drugs

Paying for treatment of hard-core drug users is a bone in the throat of middle class taxpayers–and small wonder. Drug abusers are not an appealing group, and the programs themselves largely fail to wean their clients off drugs for good. Nonetheless, say RAND researchers, treatment programs are a sound investment of public funds because they effectively cut consumption–and consumption is what drives the drug trade.

RAND corporation aims to provide policy guidance, driven by data and research, to policy makers. They differ from many others in that they pay more attention to what works than to the interest groups often telling politicians what to do. RAND is willing to take stands that others are not and often propose policies that conflict with the accepted positions held to for decades by interest groups.

When data supports a policy RAND will encourage the use of that policy even if it seems odd – like paying for drug treatment for those breaking the law. Without treatment RAND data shows the government will spend 7 times as much money. But politicians have been resisting spending 1/7 as much money because they fear voters can’t understand that doing so is wise. This is from a 1995 report by RAND:

Treatment is seven times more cost-effective in reducing cocaine consumption than the best supply-control program and could cut consumption by a third if it were extended to all heavy users, according to the study. Such a strategy could also substantially reduce the number of users and the costs they inflict on society through crime and lost productivity.

And RAND doesn’t even factor in the costs of wasted lives, pain and suffering that are aided by good addition treatment help. Some propose we aid drug users with treatment programs because human suffering is something we should reduce when we can. RAND proposes we do so based solely on the hard cash benefits government will gain. It is hard to argue with a program that reduces costs by 86% (6/7).

While we may have made a little progress has been made in getting more funding since 1995, if we have it is a tiny portion of what would be a wise investment. The failure to use addiction treatment progress continues to add to the budget deficits our governments face and the suffering of drug abusers in our society.

Related: Drug Treatment Funding Can More Than Pay For Itself With Reduced Crime CostsImproving Addiction Treatment with The University of Wisconsin MadisonWhat Should Society Do About Drug Addicts That Are Not Seeking Treatment?

Prescription Painkillers Kill More Every Year in USA than Heroin and Cocaine Combined

Overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have skyrocketed in the past decade. Every year, nearly 15,000 people die from overdoses involving these drugs—more than those who die from heroin and cocaine combined.

The abuse of prescription painkillers has risen dramatically in the last 15 years; in 1999 4,000 people were killed by these drugs (less than a third of the current numbers of deaths).

Find more information on prescription drug abuse and treatment options from the United States Center for Disease Control.

Related: Prescription Drug Abuse in the USAPrescription Drug Abuse: Pain Killers Can Lead to AdditionDecline in the Misuse of Prescription Drugs in the USA (reported in 2008, was the data accurate?)Brett Favre Overcomes Painkiller Addiction

2012 National Drug Control Strategy for the USA

The USA has published their 2012 National Drug Control Strategy. The intro from President Obama includes:

Illicit drug use in America contributed to an estimated $193 billion in crime, health, and lost productivity costs in 2007, the year for which the most recent estimate is available. In today’s challenging economic environment, we cannot afford such a drain on our economy and public resources. While difficult budget decisions must be made at all levels of government, we must ensure continued support for policies and programs that reduce drug use and its enormous costs to American society.

Research has documented that substance use disorder treatment is a sound public investment. For example, a 2006 study found that every dollar spent on treatment yielded an average of seven dollars in costs savings. The majority of these savings came from reduced criminal justice system involvement and increased employment earnings. **Benefit-cost in the California treatment outcome project: Does substance abuse treatment‘pay or itself’? Health Services Research, 41(1), 192-213, 2006**

Other studies document substantial cost-offsets in the healthcare domain alone . Another 2006 study reported a net savings of $2,500 per person per year in Medicaid costs associated with treatment, and a State of Washington report found that treatment yielded a con- servatively estimated $252 per person per month in cost reductions associated with medical care and state and community psychiatric hospitalizations. **The effect of substance abuse treatment on medicaid expenditures among general assistance welfare clients in Washington State, The Milbank Quarterly, 84(3), 555-576, 2006 and Washington State supplemental security income (SSI) cost-offset pilot project: 2002 progress report.

In 2010, an estimated 23.1 million Americans (9.1%) aged 12 or older needed specialized treatment for a substance use disorder, but only 2.6 million (roughly 11.2% of them) received it. We need to stop wasting money and lives and costing our society much more over the long term.

In 2010, over seven million people in the United States were under the supervision of the criminal justice system: over two million incarcerated and the remaining five million on probation or parole.

Compounding the significant expenditures on corrections is the fact that far too many offenders return to drug use and reenter the criminal justice system. Among state prisoners with substance use disorders, 53% had at least three prior sentences to probation or incarceration, compared to 32% of other inmates.

Many offenders deal with a chronic substance use disorder—a disease for which too many are inadequately treated. These offenders need effective substance use disorder and mental health treatment while incarcerated and should continue with recovery support services that assist with employment, housing, medical care, and other support upon their reentry into the community.

Related: UK Drug Policy Commission Recommends Decriminalizing Drug UseDrug Treatment Funding Can More Than Pay For Itself With Reduced Crime CostsImproving Addiction Treatment with The University of Wisconsin – Madison