Research Questions

  1. What are the national estimates of the total number of users, total expenditures, and total consumption for cocaine (including crack), heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine from 2000 to 2010?

Abstract

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. Drug users in the United States spend on the order of $100 billion annually on these drugs (in 2010 dollars). While this total figure has been stable over the decade, there have been important compositional shifts. From 2006 to 2010, the amount of marijuana consumed in the United States likely increased more than 30 percent, while the amount of cocaine consumed in the United States decreased by approximately 50 percent. These figures are consistent with supply-side indicators, such as seizures and production estimates. Methamphetamine consumption rose sharply from 2000 through the middle of the decade, and this was followed by a large decline through 2008. Heroin consumption remained fairly stable throughout the decade, although there is some evidence of an increase in the later years. For all of the drugs, total consumption and expenditures are driven by the minority of users who consume on 21 or more days each month.

Please note: This report is not available on the RAND website but can be downloaded from the whitehouse.gov website.

Key Findings

Through 2010, Spending on Illicit Drugs Held Steady, but Distribution Shifted

  • Drug users in the United States spend on the order of $100 billion annually on cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine. 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.
  • 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.

Marijuana Use Was Up, Cocaine Down, Heroin Holding Steady and Meth Hard to Estimate

  • From 2006 to 2010, the amount of marijuana consumed in the United States likely increased by more than 30 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 make comparisons difficult.
  • 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 after 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.

There Is A Lot of Uncertainty Surrounding These Estimates

  • Self-report surveys remain a principal source of information about user behaviors — frequency, quantity, and spending. The organizations conducting these surveys expend considerable effort trying to minimize misreporting, including sometimes confirming self-reported data by testing users for the presence of drugs. Nevertheless, there is no way to entirely escape the basic limitations of self-report, and unfortunately supply-side estimates are plagued by different but equally severe limitations.

Recommendations

  • Revise some of the questions on existing self-report surveys.
  • Expand efforts to capture data about meth users to include populations outside urban areas.
  • Invest in regular (though not necessarily annual) collection of detailed data from users, especially heavy users (e.g., via the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program).

The research described in this report was conducted within the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, part of RAND Health and RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

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