The RAND Corporation has prepared a facts and figures filled report for the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) entitled “What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs: 2000-2010.” Make of it what you will (RAND and ONDCP aren’t exactly the most trusted institutions), but there’s plenty of interesting and thought-provoking information. You can find a PDF with the entire report here; this excerpt is from the executive summary:
A sense of scale is a prerequisite to thinking sensibly about illicit drug markets. For example, knowing whether a country consumes tens, hundreds, or thousands of metric tons (MTs) of a prohibited substance is critical for understanding the impact of a three-MT seizure at a border crossing. But decisionmakers need more than a sense of scale; they also need figures with enough precision to be able to determine whether the markets have become larger or smaller over time.
In January 2012, the U.S. White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) asked RAND to generate national estimates of the total number of users, total expenditures, and total consumption for four illicit drugs from 2000 to 2010: cocaine (including crack), heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine (or meth). This report explains our methodology and presents our results.
Among our main findings:
- Drug users in the United States spend on the order of $100 billion annually on cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and meth. While this total figure has been stable over the decade, there have been important compositional shifts. In 2000, much more money was spent on cocaine than marijuana; in 2010 the opposite was true.
- From 2002 to 2010, the amount of marijuana consumed in the United States likely increased by about 40 percent while the amount of cocaine consumed in the United States decreased by about 50 percent. These figures are consistent with supply-side indicators, such as seizures and production estimates.
- Heroin consumption remained fairly stable throughout the decade, although there is some evidence of an increase in the later years. Most of the heroin consumed in the United States comes from poppies grown in Colombia and Mexico, but data deficiencies surrounding associated production figures from 2005 to 2010 make comparisons difficult. There was a steady increase in the amount of heroin seized within the United States and at the southwest border from 2007 through 2010.
- Methamphetamine estimates are subject to the greatest uncertainty because national datasets do not do a good job of capturing its use. Three particular challenges were that the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (ADAM-I) was discontinued in 2003, just before meth use was believed to be at its peak (2004–2006); ADAM-II did not start until 2007 (2007–2010) and it covers very few counties with substantial meth use; and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) changed how it asked about meth use in 2007. While multiple indicators are consistent with an increasing trend in meth consumption over the first half of the decade and a subsequent decline through 2008, there is not comparable agreement as to the level. Further, we suggest that the most defensible position concerning trends from 2008 to 2010 is simply to admit the data are insufficient to provide clear guidance.
- For all of the drugs, total consumption and expenditures are driven by the minority of heavy users, who consume on 21 or more days each month.
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