National Drug Intelligence Center fails intelligence test

The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center has released a major new report (that appears to have been prepared at significant expense) titled: The Economic Impact of Illicit Drug Use on American Society 2011

The National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) prepares an annual National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA) that provides federal policymakers and senior officials with a comprehensive appraisal of the danger that trafficking and use of illicit drugs pose to the security of our nation. To expand the scope of its NDTA, and to provide the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and other federal officials with a broad and deep understanding of the full burden that illicit drug use places on our
country, NDIC has prepared this assessment— The Economic Impact of Illicit Drug Use on American Society. The assessment is conducted within a Cost of Illness (COI) framework that has guided work of this kind for several decades. As such, it monetizes the consequences of illicit drug use, thereby allowing its impact to be gauged relative to other social problems.

In 2007, the cost of illicit drug use totaled more than $193 billion.

$193 billion. In one year? Wow.

How is illicit drug use costing us so much? Let’s look at what they’re including…

  • Crime includes three components: criminal justice system costs ($56,373,254,000), crime victim costs ($1,455,555,000), and other crime costs ($3,547,885,000). These subtotal $61,376,694,000.
  • Health includes five components: specialty treatment costs ($3,723,338,000), hospital and emergency department costs for nonhomicide cases ($5,684,248,000), hospital and emergency department costs for homicide cases ($12,938,000), insurance administration costs ($544,000), and other health costs ($1,995,164,000). These subtotal $11,416,232,000.
  • Productivity includes seven components: labor participation costs ($49,237,777,000), specialty treatment costs for services provided at the state level ($2,828,207,000), specialty treatment costs for services provided at the federal level ($44,830,000), hospitalization costs ($287,260,000), incarceration costs ($48,121,949,000), premature mortality costs (nonhomicide: $16,005,008,000), and premature mortality costs (homicide: $3,778,973,000). These subtotal $120,304,004,000.

Now, you have to read the actual report to understand what they mean by some of those terms above, but are you already starting to get the picture?

The vast majority of those costs are directly attributable to prohibition, not illicit drug use.

Criminal justice costs of $56 billion, for example, include the police, courts, and prisons that enforce drug laws.

And the absolute largest portion of the total costs by far is “lost productivity.” Here’s my favorite: $48 billion attributable to lost productivity due to prison. That’s right, they’re considering it a cost to society that people are not being productive because they’ve been arrested for drug offenses and are in jail. And they attribute this cost to illicit drug use. They even invented a really bizarre-sounding term: drug-induced incarceration.

Now I’ve heard of drug-induced hallucinations before, but drug-induced incarceration? I don’t think so. It takes a law and a judge to induce an incarceration.

Most of the other so-called costs of illicit drug use are equally suspect. Take a look at the lost labor productivity from drug users who aren’t incarcerated. They’ve essentially looked at the income of those who use illicit drugs and compared it to those who don’t and called the difference “lost productivity.” That ignores all sorts of social and class implications related to the status of illicit drugs and also whether drug use drives unemployment or the reverse is true.

Take a look at treatment costs and you’ll find they not only count the cost of treatment, but the cost of lost productivity for those in treatment, and yet treatment may be not a result of illicit drug addiction, but of court mandate.

Or health costs. How much of the health costs mentioned are because illicit drugs are unregulated, leading to overdoses and other health problems? And death. They also counted the lost productivity of every person in history who died because of illicit drugs and would have been alive to work in 2007 otherwise. This means they counted all the people who died from heroin laced with all sorts of adulterants – a direct result of unregulated drugs.

The more you look at the report and analyze it, the more you see it as a damning report on the cost of the drug war to society. And yet it’s actually presented as a justification for the drug war.

The base line they use for the report is a drug-free America.

It is important to note that this analysis occurs within the context of a “what if” scenario in which illicit drug use no longer exists.

So essentially, they are comparing a mythical non-illicit-drug-use state with today’s illicit-drug-use state. Except that that’s not really true. They are completely ignoring prohibition. In a non-illicit-drug-use state, there would be no prohibition. Prohibition is not something that just exists because drug use exists. It is an active and significant factor that’s been added to the equation. To ignore a factor of such magnitude renders the entire report meaningless.

Imagine that the government had bizarrely decreed that corn was only allowed to be planted in rocky desert areas. Now imagine that a government report studied the attempts to grow corn and concluded, without any reference to the decree, that corn was not a viable crop for the United States. How stupid would those analysts look? And yet, this is the same kind of stupidity used in this National Drug Intelligence Center report.

It gets worse.

After listing a bunch of costs that are truly attributable to the drug war and not to illicit drug use, the analysts actually conclude that this report justifies the drug war and the drug policies that the federal government are pursuing.

…it is relatively easy to draw inferences from the findings presented above.

It is important that illicit drugs be made as difficult and costly to obtain as possible. This points to the value of law enforcement efforts. [...]

The findings thus validate the basic premises of the National Drug Control Strategy. Strong law enforcement efforts that reduce cultivation, production, and distribution of illicit drugs both limit consumer access and enhance
public safety…

Incredible. I’ve seen a lot of junk science in my time, but I’d be hard pressed to come up with a more blatant example of just making up a conclusion that had nothing to do with (and in fact was contradicted by) the data presented.

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