Not to take away from the general discussion going on over at IOZ' How to Purchase Cocaine and Heroin post, but I did get into a side discussion with TenaciousK over the costs of addiction. Were one able to save drafts of comments, I would probably have posted this over there, but c'est la Blogger vie, no can do.
Both my work and my volunteer work have brought me into contact with drug users, addicts, crack babies, and the survivng family and friends of people who died from drug overdoses. I want all those drugs to just disappear from the face of the earth, particularly meth and the like. No matter how small, the human cost is too much.
Then again [and it pains me to be in sympathy with Rush Limbaugh on anything], I'm one of the 9% and I want to be able to walk into my local drug store and casually and anonymously buy syringes and morphine sulfate the way the rest of you can bebop in there and pick up a bottle of Tylenol for your occasional headaches.
Anyway, for a variety of reasons [a future post], I now agree: drop The War On Drugs, legalize all recreational drug use.
I haven't yet figured out where I stand on the various sub-arguments about control, regulation, taxation, availability, etc [also for a later post, if ever]. For now I just want to know:
how many people are going to need treatment for drug addiction and how do we pay for it?
Opponents are fond of quoting figures like $143.4 billion as the cost of the war on drugs, but they're figuring in stuff like lost productivity, which is all well and good for making a point, but I want to figure out where in the federal coffers we have money to be turned away from fighting drugs and toward treating drug users.
Believable estimates of what the federal government is spending on the war on drugs range from about $12 billion [various sources] to about $19 billion per year. From the National Drug Control Strategy, FY 2006 Budget Summary: the budget request was approximately $12.5 billion [of which approximately 26% was to be spent on treatment].
When SWAGing stuff, I like to truncate numbers to two-ish significant figures and lean toward the worst case scenario, so $12 billion it is. And as I said to TK in the comments over at IOZ' blog, if we tax the formerly-illicit drugs like we do alcohol and tobacco, I think that might bring in another $5 billion.
In 2002, the total US population was approximately 280 million people. At about the same time, probably 7 million people, age 12 years and older, needed treatment for drug use [table 16]. That's 2.5% of the total population.
It looks like maybe one third of the same age group has tried illegal drugs at least once in their lives. If drugs become legal, affordable, and widely available, and 100% of the population tries drugs, then we can expect maybe 7.5% of the population becomes addicted and will need treatment. That seems possible or even a bit high, as the same source where I got the 7,000,000 needing drug treatment also estimates that about 18,000,000 needed treatment for alcohol problems.
So, we have somewhere in the neighborhood of $12-$17 billion to treat 22 million people. That's a paltry $545-$772 to spend on each person needing treatment. Even if only 2.5% of the population needs treatment, it only raises it to maybe a couple thousand dollars per person per year.
I don't know how much it costs to effectively treat a drug addiction, but that doesn't sound like enough money.
This is depressing. I need some drugs.
I don't agree with everything Milton Friedman says here, but but I did appreciate the homily he launches into, about 16 minutes into the video: