International 'war' on illegal drugs is failing to curb supply

September 30, 2013

The international war on illegal drugs is failing to curb supply, despite the increasing amounts of resource being ploughed into law enforcement activities, finds research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Since 1990, the street price of has fallen in real terms while the purity/potency of what's on offer has generally increased, both of which are indicators of availability.

The United Nations recently estimated that the illicit drug trade is worth at least US $350 billion every year. And needle sharing is one of the key drivers of blood borne infections, including HIV. The drug trade is also linked to high rates of violence.

Over the past several decades most national drug control strategies have focused on to curb supply, despite calls to explore approaches, such as decriminalisation and strict legal regulation.


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The researchers analysed data from seven international government-funded drug surveillance systems, which had at least 10 years of information on the price and purity of cannabis, cocaine and opiates, including heroin.

They also reviewed the number of seizures of illegal drugs in drug production regions and rates of consumption in markets where demand for illegal drugs is high.

Three of the seven surveillance systems reported on international data; three reported on US data; and one reported on data from Australia. In some cases the data went back as far as 1975, with the most recent data going back to 2001.

Three major trends emerged from the data analysis: the purity/potency of illegal drugs either generally 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 the US, after adjusting for inflation and purity, the average street price of heroin, cocaine and cannabis fell by 81%, 80%, and 86%, respectively, whereas the purity and/or potency of these drugs increased by 60%, 11%, and 161%, respectively.

Similar trends were observed in Europe where, during the same period, the average price of opiates and cocaine, adjusted for inflation and purity, decreased by 74% and 51%, respectively, and in Australia, where the price of cocaine fell by 14% and the price of heroin and cannabis dropped by 49%.

In the US seizures of cocaine roughly halved between 1990 and 2010, but those of cannabis and heroin rose by 465% and 29%, respectively; in Europe seizures of cocaine and cannabis fluctuated, but seizures of heroin had risen 380% by 2009.

On the basis of the data, the authors conclude, as previous studies have, "that the global supply of illicit drugs has likely not been reduced in the previous two decades."

They add: "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."

And they conclude: "These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing."

"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," they add.

In an accompanying podcast, co-author Dan Werb says that other indicators of the effectiveness of illegal drug policies are needed, such as rates of HIV related transmission.

More information: www.bmjopen.bmj.com/lookup/doi/10.1136/bmjopen-2013-003077

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12 comments

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cslagenhop
1 / 5 (2) Sep 30, 2013
As someone who sells drugs on the wholesale market, I can tell you that we rely on the government to eliminate most of our competition. This drives our profits through the roof and increases the incentive for our dealers to recruit new customers. If we didn't have the war on drugs, we would face a shortage of users as not many people would use drugs on their own, they usually need that little free sample. The huge drug busts you see on tv are usually our competitors we have turned in.
chuck_smith_1238292
1 / 5 (2) Oct 01, 2013
Yes, as a large wholesaler, we used to have to use Mina Arkansas, and fly loads in by night and keep it quiet. But now it is just delivered bu government transport from Afghanistan and south America to military bases and under 'National Security cover darn near delivered to our doors. Now that is "Government Service"!
cyeager61
not rated yet Oct 01, 2013
Increasing amounts of resource being ploughed into law enforcement activities?
Like California's realignment from State to Local services resulting in City Bankruptcies?
When we read: "Failure" at least some of us know why.... Illegal affirmations? or just plain outright illegal drug dispensaries?

I call it engineered failure for profit.... Hey California just legalized HEMP growers....
I wonder what that will provision? Let's all guess.......
nodoc
not rated yet Oct 01, 2013
The War on Drugs was never about reducing supply, it was about reducing the number of suppliers competing against the supplier bribing the government to have a war on drugs.

There is too much money to be made selling drugs and pretending to have a war on drugs for any war to actually be fought.
matthew_dunnyveg
1 / 5 (1) Oct 01, 2013
Anybody who has bought prescription drugs in a pharmacy know that street drugs are the ONLY drugs that have decreased in price--and despite government regulations designed to put this trade out of business.

The reasons are the liberal dogmas of free trade and open borders. Since the drugs aren't going to walk across the border themselves, they have to be carried. So, cheap, unlimited supplies of street drugs are part of the collateral damage of the Democrats' desire for voter and the Republicans' desire for cheap labor. Stop the flow of people over the border and illegal drugs will become very scarce, as almost all of them are smuggled into the country.

It's proof that liberals, whether Democrat or Republican, have neither heart nor soul.
Snidely70448
not rated yet Oct 01, 2013
The "war on Drugs" hasn't been going on since 1990, the USA initiated prohibition in 1913, 100 years ago. Everything that has happened since has just added more evidence that prohibition of anything just increases the social cost. The operative law is not what is on the books, it is the Law of Supply and Demand. The price of anything for which there is a demand will increase until there is a supplier willing to provide the good or service sufficient to supply that demand. Prohibition is just as effective as King Canute ordering the sea to not rise.
Dick Doobal
not rated yet Oct 01, 2013
I wish pot prices would come down. Now the sellers charge $20 a gram. Like how hard drugs are packaged and sold. By the gram. It should be $20 an ounce. I would hope I get a better deal from pot being legal.
steve0210
not rated yet Oct 01, 2013
The banks have admitted to laundering billions in front of Congress, but the executive claims that they have immunity because of their 'special' role in the economy.

If drugs were legal, there would be no need to launder money and the banks would lose trillions of dollars since the profit margin on laundered money is about 25% (much higher than commercial banking)
John C
not rated yet Oct 01, 2013
90% of all drugs that enter the United States of America come over the Mexican border, if the government would shut down the Mexican border drug supplies would dry up in short order and prices would soar. Drug Dealers can't bribe politicians if there's no revenue coming in.
Tom_Hennessy
not rated yet Oct 03, 2013
A good example of the last time someone tried to curb drug importation is China. China fought against Britain because Britain was flooding China with heroin. When China tried to stop Britain the British brought in their navy .
"The opium wars: When Britain made war on China"
vlaaing peerd
not rated yet Oct 03, 2013
Why a war on drugs in the first place. There is no "drug" that starts a war. You have users with a possible health risk and you have dealers that are law violators. Yet some law makers fail to understand that like any other product it has a market dictated by demand and supply. Let I add that the organised crime around this market is ...well.. organised and very professional.

So if tackling the supply doesn't help, why not try to focus on the health and social issues from the demand side?

Ensuring users do not fall into life wrecking habits, provide education, care and more responsible usage, not sending them to jails but allowing them to keep participating in society is IMO the key to successful drug regulation.

Costs less, keeps people healthy and steadily will lower demand, if there is no demand, the dealers and suppliers will eventually decrease likewise.
jsdarkdestruction
1 / 5 (1) Oct 03, 2013
I wish pot prices would come down. Now the sellers charge $20 a gram. Like how hard drugs are packaged and sold. By the gram. It should be $20 an ounce. I would hope I get a better deal from pot being legal.

grow your own my friend.

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