Rules for interpreting drug abuse research

MacCoun and Reuter tell the sad truth. E.g.: “Evidence that a drug impairs human capacities is always believable and important.”

It has been observed that actual political events and statements are currently so weird that it’s hard to tell satire from sober fact. (It’s not clear whether that means that The Onion will have to go out of business or instead that it will replace the New York Times.)

But of course that has long been true of drug policy. Rob MacCoun and Peter Reuter, two sober-sided academics (MacCoun a social psychologist at Berkeley, Reuter an economist at Maryland) put on their best straight faces and list the effective rules of the drug-policy-research game:

(1) Evidence that a drug impairs human capacities is always believable and important.

(2) Our best estimate of a drug’s harm is not the average estimate but the most severe estimate yet obtained.

(3) Evidence that an illicit drug could have benefits may not be collected.

(4) Treatment requires evidence of both effectiveness and cost-effectiveness.

(5) Evidence regarding prevention is always welcome, but it still would not get much funding.

(6) Law enforcement and interdiction require no evidence at all; they are assumed to be effective and appropriate.

(7) Evidence against enforcement creates a presumption that the researcher is a liberal.

(8) Evidence for harm reduction creates a presumption that the researcher approves of drug use.

(9) Scientific research on drugs cannot motivate a change from tough law to lenient law, but it can motivate a change in the opposite direction.

None of that has changed, even as the balance of media discourse has moved dramatically. Tobacco, but not alcohol, operates under the same rules. Remarkable, really. But so far it looks quite stable.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

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