Drug war strategy: First fund enforcement then switch to treatment, says O.R. paper

Rejecting a single strategy in the war against drugs, researchers recommend emphasizing law enforcement at the early stage of a new drug epidemic, then shifting funds to treatment when drug use flattens, according to a study published in a journal of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS).

Societal use of many drugs passes through stages of explosive spread, plateau, and slow decay, say the authors.

"Early in an epidemic, drug use begets more use and grows very quickly," explains Dr. Jonathan Caulkins, an operations researcher at Carnegie Mellon University and RAND. "Ideally society would catch a new epidemic early, intervene very aggressively on both the demand and supply side, and short-circuit the drug outbreak. Very quickly, however, an epidemic can become sufficiently established that the best policy is to moderate the epidemic, rather than to seek immediate eradication."

Initially, he says, this should be done primarily with enforcement in order to keep drug prices high and suppress the growth in the number of new drug addicts. Among all types of drug control interventions, enforcement is uniquely capable of focusing its effect in the present.

As use grows over time, enforcement spending should increase, but not in proportion to use and not as fast as treatment spending. So treatment should receive a larger share of control resources when a drug problem is mature than when it is first growing. If initiation rates subsequently decline, for example because the drug is universally recognized as dangerous, then enforcement's budget share can drop further without reigniting the epidemic - as long as a reasonably stringent regime is maintained. Professor Caulkins is an expert in modeling societal problems pertaining to drugs, crime, and violence. He has testified before Congress and state legislatures on the effectiveness of drug control programs and has briefed senior policy makers at the federal,

Contact: Barry List
Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences

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