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Crime and Justice

ARTICLE: How Drug Enforcement Affects Drug Prices


Crime and Justice

39 Crime & Just. 213


Jonathan P. Caulkins and Peter Reuter


The U.S. drug problem has lost some of its political salience since the late 1980s when it was briefly the principal domestic policy concern of the public, but every year there are more than 30,000 deaths from drug-induced causes and roughly 1 million drug-related emergency room visits. More than one-third of AIDS deaths are drug related. Seven and a half million Americans are believed to need drug treatment. The majority of arrestees test positive for at least one illegal drug, and illegal drugs generate an estimated $ 180 billion per year in social costs (Office of National Drug Control Policy [ONDCP] 2004, 2009).

The nation invests ever-increasing amounts in an effort to control illegal drug markets. In 2007 the federal government probably spent $ 20 billion per year on drug programs, 1 and it devoted almost two-thirds of federal prison space to locking up 100,000 drug offenders. State and local governments made more than 1.5 million arrests for drug offenses and incarcerated 400,000 individuals for drug offenses on any given day. A plausible estimate of the total annual government expenditure for drug control in the United States in the latter part of the first decade of the twenty-first century is about $ 40 billion, of which approximately three-quarters goes to enforcement, both here and overseas.

Drug enforcement, rather than the demand-side programs of prevention and treatment, is thus the cornerstone of drug policy in the United States. Surprisingly, enforcement also dominates drug control budgets in other countries for which budget ...
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