The discussion covered a number of interesting facts including that government funds are allocated primarily to supply side reduction (~75%, roughly the same in most westernized countries), such as eradication of drugs at their sites of production (e.g., burning coca fields in Columbia) and interdiction (finding and confiscating drug shipments before distribution). This leaves about 25% for demand reduction programs including research and treatment.
The big problem with this math, according to these experts, is that there is very little evidence available demonstrating efficacy of most supply side methods. In fact, two of the most obvious measurements of supply side efficacy, street prices for cocaine or heroin, are the lowest they have been in years, meaning that there is no apparent supply shortage. The United States Drug Enforcement Agency reports that drug purity is down, which could in part explain price reductions, but other statistics support the idea that supply side reduction is not particularly effective.
By contrast, there is recent evidence documenting that good research, when turned into good treatment, is effective at reducing substance abuse and dependence. For example, each dollar invested in substance abuse treatment has been estimated to save taxpayers $7 in overall costs (healthcare, insurance, crime, etc.).
So, where does this leave us? In this era when its been harder than ever to obtain federal research funding, wouldn’t it be nice if we could find ways to persuade congress to shift a small fraction of federal resources from supply side to demand side efforts, including research?
Imagine shifting a modest 5% of the total supply side funding (a 7% decrease) to demand side funding (a 20% increase)—how many innovative research and treatment programs would be stabilized, how many new programs would be enabled, and how many $7 returns per dollar of federal treatment investment would be accrued?
In his CPDD Plenary Session address several days before the Public Policy Forum, Dr. Tom McLellan, Deputy Director for Demand Reduction in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy noted that ONDCP is devoting substantial effort to coordinate substance abuse intervention efforts by different federal agencies. Perhaps efficiencies that result from this program might make modest funding redistributions from supply to demand side a zero-sum gain for research.
CPDDBLOG welcomes CPDD member’s thoughts on this issue.