For decades, officials throughout the world have attempted to curb the supply of illicit drugs with a combination of prohibition and heavy-handed law enforcement tactics. In the United States, billions of dollars have been pumped into local law enforcement agencies and millions of nonviolent offenders imprisoned in an effort to quell drug supply.
The strategy has not only failed in the U.S, but internationally, according to new research published in the journal BMJ Open.
The research indicates that since the anti-drug crusades of the U.S. and its international counterparts reached a sort of peak in 1990, the price of illicit drugs has fallen and their potency and purity have increased. In other words, despite throwing millions of people in prison cells and investing billions in anti-drug enforcement, drugs users have access to higher-quality, lower-cost substances than they did a little more than two decades ago.
The United Nations recently estimated that the global black market for drugs is worth at least $350 billion annually.
The researchers of the study published in BMJ Open analyzed the government-funded drug surveillance systems of seven countries to reach the following conclusions: The purity/potency of illegal drugs either remained stable or increased between 1990 and 2010; with few exceptions, the street price generally fell; and seizures of drugs increased in both the countries of major supply and demand.
“In particular, the data presented in this study suggest that the supply of opiates and cannabis have increased, given the increasing potency and decreasing prices of these illegal commodities,” the researchers write.
In the U.S., for example, the average street price of heroin, cocaine and cannabis fell by 81 percent, 80 percent and 86 percent, respectively; the purity and/or potency of the same three drugs increased by 60 percent, 11 percent and 161 percent, respectively.
Meanwhile, U.S. seizures of cocaine roughly halved between 1990 and 2010; but those of cannabis and heroin rose by 465 percent and 29 percent, respectively.
Similar trends were noted in Australia and in European countries with drug policies similar to those in the U.S.
The researchers behind the study say that the fact that current approaches have done little to reduce the drugs supply, despite costing billions of dollars and imprisoning millions of people, is reason to consider new approaches to drug policy.
“These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing,” they write.
The researchers conclude, “It is hoped that this study highlights the need to re-examine the effectiveness of national and international drug strategies that place a disproportionate emphasis on supply reduction at the expense of evidence based prevention and treatment of problematic illegal drug use.”
While the American taxpayer will never benefit from a perpetually failing war on drugs, there are some organizations that do — private prison companies, police departments receiving Federal kickbacks and pharmaceutical and other legal drug companies — and they are dedicated to maintaining the failed status quo.