Monday, July 12, 2010
Drug Wars Increase Drug Violence
Homicides rise with anti-drug expenditures.
In a large review of studies evaluating the association between drug law enforcement and violence, the Vancouver-based International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) concluded that “the existing scientific evidence strongly suggests that drug prohibition likely contributes to drug market violence and higher homicide rates. On the basis of these findings, it is reasonable to infer that increasingly sophisticated methods of disrupting drug distribution networks may increase levels of drug-related violence.”
This finding is either self-evident or counterintuitive, depending upon your point of view. But it is entirely consistent with several historical examples, most notably the breakup of the Cali and Medellin cartels in Columbia during the 1990s. “The destruction of the cartels’ cocaine duopoly,” says the report, “was followed by the emergence of a fractured network of smaller cocaine-trafficking cartels that increasingly used violence to protect and increase their market share.”
In its review of available English language studies focusing on the association between drug enforcement and violence, the ICSDP looked at “longitudinal analyses involving up to six years of prospective follow-up, multilevel regression analyses, qualitative analyses, and mathematical predictive models.” The result? “Contrary to our primary hypothesis, among studies that employed statistical analyses of real world data, 82% found a significant positive association between drug law enforcement and violence.”
According to Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, who is quoted in the report: “Prohibition creates violence because it drives the drug market underground. This means buyers and sellers cannot resolve their disputes with lawsuits, arbitration or advertising, so they resort to violence instead.”
The drug policy group estimates that the worldwide illicit drug trade adds up to as much as $320 billion annually. Latin America is still the world’s leading supplier of marijuana and cocaine, but it has also become a major player in the opium and heroin trade. Afghanistan and West Africa are also plagued with serious political and social instability and violence due to drug traffic.
In light of the continuing economic downturn, it seems pertinent to note that the study estimates total U.S. drug law enforcement expenditures at about $15 billion a year for roughly the past 15 years. During that period, illegal drugs “have become cheaper and drug purity has increased, while rates of use have not markedly changed.” As an example, the report points to the “startling increase in heroin purity” from 1980 to 1999, when the Drug War was in full swing, and contrasts that trend with the “equally startling drop in price over the same period.”
The ICSDP is a recently-formed multinational network of scientists, health practitioners, and academics who seek to move the focus on drugs from law enforcement to harm reduction through “evidence-based drug policy guidelines and research collaborations with scientists and institutions across continents and disciplines.” Among its members are Michel D. Kazatchkine, executive director of The Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria; Dr. David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London, who was recently dismissed as a drug adviser by the British government for his anti-drug war views; and Dr. Julio Montaner, president of the International AIDS Society.
The report, like all such summary studies, is open to dispute by scholars and scientists on the grounds of statistical methodology, but to date it serves as additional evidence for the proposition that federal drug control officials must seek alternative regulatory models--or risk being responsible for helping to lower price, increase supply, and foment a truly appalling level of homicidal violence in their efforts to interdict drug traffic and incarcerate users.
Drug wars never work. The report from the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy is another reminder that drug wars intrinsically raise the level of violence in the countries and the communities where they are quixotically waged.
Graphics Credit: http://www.icsdp.org/