Measurement and Analysis of Drug Problems and Drug Control Efforts

Published in: Criminal Justice 2000. Vol. 4 / Edited by David Duffee ... et al., (Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 2000), p. 391-449

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 1999

by Jonathan P. Caulkins

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Drug problems are complex, and determining the best combination of drug control interventions is not always intuitive. Hence, there is a need for rigorous, even quantitative analysis of their effectiveness. This essay is a progress report on the state of the still-developing art of quantitative analysis of the effectiveness of drug control interventions. Some limitations of existing data are first identified and discussed. They include the reliance on self-reports; the indirect relationship between available indicators and the underlying quantities of greatest interest; and an overemphasis on measures of drug use at the expense of other factors, such as externalities associated with drug control efforts. Four encouraging trends are the ongoing expansion of traditional data systems, improving information about drug markets, greater integration across data sources, and better data from other countries. Although the relevant data are highly imperfect, they have been adequate to support initial efforts to quantify the effectiveness of a range control interventions. Which interventions are most effective depends on what one defines as the objective of drug control. Available evidence concerning one objective--reducing the quantity of the drugs consumed--is reviewed and found to contain key insights but also to be wanting in important respects. There is a need for better information concerning interactions between different drugs and drug market, interactions with other domains of social policy, how interventions' effectiveness varies over the course of a drug epidemic, and how epidemics emerge and how they can be controlled in their early stages. These limitations are best viewed as a challenge, not as an excuse for basing policy on less formal or ad hoc syntheses of the literature. Drug policy is not alone in demanding creativity in the adaptation and application of quantitative analysis to evaluate effectiveness. Other policy domains in which benefit-cost or cost-effectiveness analysis is now accepted went through a similar, formative stage.

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