The Success of the War on Drugs.

Jul 1st, 2008 | By | Category: Public Health

For our little war on drugs, we’ve willfully ignored vast chunks of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments. We might imprison the highest percentage of the population and the greatest absolute number of people in the world–leaving #2 China deep in our dust in this one measure–but, surely, our population is one of the most drug-free!

Let’s look at the data, thanks to a recently published article in PLoS Medicine surveying drug usage worldwide. How do we rank, next to the decadent drug-tolerant nations of the world. Hell, let’s make it easy and compare ourselves to the Netherlands. With all we’ve spent and sacrificed, we’ll certainly beat the Dutch, with their hash-bar loving ways.

First the legal drugs:

Ah, we can clearly see the perfidious Dutch are approximately as drunk as we are–up there with such unsavories as the Ukrainians and Germans. We tried prohibition and gave up. See what it did?


At least we show some leadership on the whole tobacco issue. Nothing more American than a Southern farm pumping out the good leaf.

Now on to the illicit.

Ahem. Well, despite pot being illegal in the US, and defacto legalized in the Netherlands, we end up at least trying pot at twice the rate. Certainly our draconian drug policies should at least keep hard drugs away from good and decent Americans.

Ahem. The taste of hard-fought and sweet success.

Snark aside, I think this is a quite good survey. But, we should be cautious before drawing too many causal connections.

The methodology seems quite solid, with the same survey used in each country–keeping comparisons between countries meaningful. Even the structure of the interview was shared between nations. Bilingual supervisors of the study were used for every country that participated. This in contrast to many similar studies that merely aggregate many individual surveys specific to a given nation–surveys that can differ dramatically in the both the questions asked and how the questions were asked. I’d be more apt to believe the comparisons¬†in this study¬†than the prior.

By asking “have you ever used,” the stigma threshold is also probably reduced–leading to more accurate responses. This is mostly speculation on my part, so feel free to disagree. On the converse, the rates of regular drug usage are probably quite different from this most lenient standard.

So far as inferences, there certainly was no correlation between the severity of a country’s drug laws and rates of drug usage. If drug laws did work, we’d at least expect some negative corrolation; while this doesn’t prove drug law are ineffective, it doesn’t really support the notion at all.

Some of the rates went against my expectations–Don’t the French supposedly smoke like chimneys? Neat.

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