Order Code RL32334
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Illicit Drugs and the Terrorist Threat:
Causal Links and Implications for
Domestic Drug Control Policy
Updated June 22, 2004
Mark A.R. Kleiman
Domestic Social Policy Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Illicit Drugs and the Terrorist Threat: Causal Links and
Implications for Domestic Drug Control Policy
The international traffic in illicit drugs contributes to terrorist risk through at
least five mechanisms: supplying cash, creating chaos and instability, supporting
corruption, providing “cover” and sustaining common infrastructures for illicit
activity, and competing for law enforcement and intelligence attention. Of these,
cash and chaos are likely to be the two most important.
Different drugs, different trafficking routes, and different organizations have
different relationships to terrorist threats. Therefore it might be possible to improve
domestic security by targeting drug law enforcement on those drugs, routes, and
organizations with the strongest known or potential links to terror. However, doing
so would require new analytic capacities and decision-making strategies for all the
agencies involved in drug law enforcement and there is no assurance that the policies
that best implement the mission of protecting Americans from drug abuse will also
perform best in protecting the country from terrorism. Indeed, the interests of
ideology-driven terrorists and money-driven drug traders can sometimes diverge , as
when increased resources deployed against terrorists adversely affect the activities
of drug traders with no ties to terrorists.
Any terrorist threats exacerbated by the illicit drug markets might be reduced by
shrinking the markets themselves, both in physical volume and financial revenue.
It is not clear that increased drug law enforcement alone can succeed in that respect;
the cocaine and heroin markets have proven stubbornly resistant to vigorous
Reducing demand for illicit drugs can also shrink the markets. The total number
of users is much less important in determining drug volumes and revenues than the
behavior of a relatively small number of chronic, high-dose drug-takers. Most of that
“hard core” group consists of people who are repeatedly arrested, not only for drug
offenses but for a wide range of property, violent, and public-order offenses. Acting
to reduce the population of hard-core user-offenders, through treatment, drug courts,
or testing-and-sanctions programs, may offer a better prospect for reducing the size
of the drug markets, and thus potentially the contribution of drug trafficking to the
Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Potential Links Between Drug Trafficking and Terrorism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Cash . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Chaos and Instability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Corruption and Intimidation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Cover and Common Infrastructures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Competition for Enforcement Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Drug Policy To Reduce the Terrorist Threat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
The Importance of Scale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
The Multiple Goals of Drug Control Policy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Shrinking the Drug Markets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
The Difficulty of Raising Prices in Mature Markets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
The Difficulty of Reducing Availability in Mature Markets . . . . . . . . 14
The Complexities of Demand Reduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Illicit Drugs and the Terrorist Threat: Causal
Links and Implications for Domestic Drug
Some terrorist organizations, and the governments that harbor and support them,
also engage in drug dealing, or otherwise profit from the traffic in illicit drugs. The
Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has created a series of
controversial print and television advertisements that attempt to use the links between
drugs and terrorism to dissuade current and potential drug users. An exhibit at the
new Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Museum makes the same point.1 This
report2 discusses the relationships between drug trafficking and terrorism and
analyzes some of the policy implications of those relationships for anti-drug policy.
The links between the two sets of phenomena are important considerations in
formulating a drug control policy that also contributes to the campaign against terror.
Drug supply and demand reduction might contribute to homeland security by
reducing the availability of funds and other forms of support to terrorist
organizations. Integrating the two sets of concerns, if that is to be done, may require
reexaming relevant aspects of existing domestic and foreign policy strategies. This
report addresses issues relating to the formulation and execution of drug control
policy in the context of its implications for terrorism.
Potential Links Between Drug Trafficking and
Drug trafficking — in source countries, transit countries, and consumer
countries, including the United States — could contribute to the problems of terror
in at least five distinct ways:
! Supplying cash for terrorist operations;
Office of National Drug Control Policy, “Drug Czar Announces Extension of Ads Linking
Drugs, Terror: Walters Hails ‘Most Successful Ads in History of Anti-Drug Media
Campaign,’” press release, Feb. 26, 2002; Drug Enforcement Administration, “DEA and
Giuliani Open National Museum Exhibit on Drugs and Terrorism,” press release, Sept. 3,
2002. See [http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/news/press02/022702.html] and
For further information, please contact Mark Eddy at (202) 707-8647.
! Creating chaos in countries where drugs are produced, through which they
pass, or in which they are sold at retail and consumed — chaos sometimes
deliberately cultivated by drug traffickers — which may provide an
environment conducive to terrorist activity;
! Generating corruption in law enforcement, military, and other governmental
and civil-society institutions in ways that either build public support for
terrorist-linked groups or weaken the capacity of the society to combat
terrorist organizations and actions;
! Providing services also useful for terrorist actions and movements of terrorist
personnel and materiel, and supporting a common infrastructure, such as
smuggling capabilities, illicit arms acquisition, money laundering, or the
production of false identification or other documents, capable of serving both
drug-trafficking and terrorist purposes; and
! Competing for law enforcement and intelligence attention.
In principle, any of these might be important. It is likely that the first two listed
— cash and chaos — are the dominant mechanisms by which the illicit drug traffic
winds up contributing to the problem of terrorism, but the data required for a truly
quantitative assessment are not currently available (at least in the unclassified
Compared to the small sums required to carry out even major terrorist actions,
the money available from drug trafficking is substantial. A single Arabian Sea
seizure of hashish from a trafficking group including suspected al Qaeda members,
made at the end of 2003, involved drugs worth nearly $30 million at wholesale. Two
drug dealers pleaded guilty in March 2004 to conspiring to provide material support
to al Qaeda in a much larger hashish and heroin trafficking case made in Hong
There is no consensus on the total amount of international financial flows
associated with the illicit drug trade. A United Nations figure of $400 billion per
year is often cited, and compared with world trade figures in various categories of
licit goods (textiles, petroleum, and food, for example).4
In the single biggest drug market, that for cocaine, the United States is reported
to consume about one-third of the world total in terms of bulk. Yet the dollar value
of all U.S. illicit drug markets combined is less than $65 billion per year, according
to a study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.5 If the U.S. market is truly
Mark Huband, “Al-Qaeda Forms Drug Links as Anti-Terror War Bites,” Financial Times,
June 15, 2004, p. 5.
United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, World Drug Report 2000
(Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 55- 59.
Office of National Drug Control Policy, “National Drug Control Strategy,” Feb. 2002, pp.
57; and Office of National Drug Control Policy, “What America’s Users Spend on Illegal
in the range of $65 billion, and the U.S. accounts for no less than one-third of the
world total, then the actual amount is no more than half as great as the U.N.
estimates, or about $200 billion. (That figure would be smaller than the licit retail
market in alcohol or tobacco products.)
However, even that lower figure does not represent funds potentially available
to fund terrorism. That $200 billion would, if accurate, represent the total value of
all illicit drugs, priced at the retail level. The vast bulk of that retail value consists
of the illicit earnings of traffickers within the country in which the drugs are sold, not
the revenues available to producers and international traffickers.
The import-export prices of illicit drugs represent only a small fraction — about
a tenth, in the case of cocaine — of the prices paid by consumers.6 Moreover, some
drugs are consumed in the countries where they are produced, for example the
substantial amount of methamphetamine and cannabis produced and consumed in the
United States. So if the aggregate “street price” of all the illicit drugs sold in the
world were approximately $200 billion dollars, the total value of drug imports and
exports might be in the $10-20 billion range.
Of that amount, it is believed that only a tiny fraction flows to terrorist groups.
In particular, groups that live by “taxing” or facilitating the production of raw drug
crops which is where terrorist groups are most likely to be involved, are dealing with
drugs at the point in the supply chain where their value is least. For example, heroin
sells at retail in the United States for approximately $1 per pure milligram;7 thus a
kilogram of heroin, broken down and sold at retail, fetches $1 million. The “landed
price” of that kilogram when it arrives in the United States is about $100,000.8 But
the 10 kilograms of opium that can be converted into that kilogram of heroin sell in
Afghanistan for about $5,000, a 20th of the import price, and about one half of 1% of
the retail price.
The $10 billion U.S. annual retail heroin market thus generates about $1 billion
in imports, of which roughly $50 million goes to poppy growers. Terrorists and
others who might levy “taxes” on this illicit agricultural activity cannot be extracting
more than a very small share of that amount. The ratios in the cocaine trade are
comparable: the total value of the coca leaf that goes to make up the $35 billion
annual U.S. cocaine market is about $150 million at the point where it is harvested,
Drugs 1988-1998,” Dec. 2000, pp. 1-5. (Hereafter cited as ONDCP, “What America’s
Users Spend on Illegal Drugs.”)
Charles F. Mansi, et al.(eds.), Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t
Know Keeps Hurting Us (Washington: National Research Council, 2001), pp.153-156.
ONDCP, What American’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs (Table 6), p. 18.
U.S. Department of Justice, National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), Heroin Distribution
in Three Cities, Document 2001-R0370-001, Nov. 2000, available at
and the total value of cocaine imports no more than $5 billion as first landed in this
However, even though only a tiny fraction of the world’s drug dealing revenues
goes to benefit terrorist groups, that relatively small amount could still be a large
fraction of the world’s terrorist revenues. Unfortunately, the amount of money
required by terrorists to do enormous damage is relatively slight. The September 11
attacks are variously estimated to have cost between $500,000 and $2 million to carry
out.10 Even the higher of those estimates represents less than one hour’s worth of
revenue in the illicit market for cocaine in the United States, or about 1% of the
annual value of the coca leaf that generates cocaine for the U.S. market. Therefore,
the leakage of funds from drugs (or any other financial source, for that matter) into
terror does not have to be substantial, measured as part of the drug trade, to constitute
a large part of the funding of terror.
Similarly, the fact that most drug-dealing revenues are earned in consumer
countries rather than source or transit countries does not necessarily mean that none
of that money is available for the support of terrorism. Some of the revenues earned
from transactions that take place in the United States may flow back to other
countries where it is put to sometimes violent uses, as was the case with cocaine
trafficking by the Medellin Cartel.11 DEA reportedly has found that some of the
revenues from a Midwestern methamphetamine and methamphetamine-precursor
trafficking organization, some of whose personnel were nationals of Middle Eastern
countries, was flowing into the coffers of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah
Unlike drug dealing, terrorism does not “naturally” generate money. Rather
than flowing up from the bottom of the organization (starting with customers paying
retail dealers, who then pay middlemen, who pay suppliers, who pay importers, who
pay exporters), terrorist cash flows down the organization from organizers to foot
soldiers (and their families). The money eventually comes from donors,13 from
Jonathan P. Caulkins and Peter Reuter, “What Price Data Tell Us About Drug Markets,”
Journal of Drug Issues, vol. 28, no. 3 (1998), pp. 593-612 and R. MacCoun and Peter
Reuter, Drug War Heresies: Lessons Learned from Other Vices, Times, and Places (Santa
Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2001), pp. 20-21.
Chris Baker, “Putting a Price Tag on Terror,” Washington Times, Nov. 18, 2001, pp.
A1($500,000 estimate), “Hard Evidence Would Help,” Economist, Sept. 29, 2001, and The
Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, How Drug Prohibition Finances and Otherwise
Enables Terrorism, Introduction, p. 1 ($2 million estimate).
Kevin Jack Riley, Snow Job: The War Against International Drug Trafficking,
(Greenwood Press, 1996), pp. 155-156.
Associated Press, “U.S. Drug Ring Tied to Aid for Hezbollah,” New York Times, Sept. 3,
2002, p A16.
Some donors, no doubt, are deliberately financing terrorist activity. Others may be
deceived by charitable appeals. Still others can be somewhere in between: giving money
in “humanitarian” ways that may help support or endorse terrorist activity, for example by
financing assistance to the families of terrorists who are killed.
extortion victims, from theft or robbery victims, and from illicit-market (including
In the drug business, cash is seldom the factor that bounds how large an
organization can grow; the limiting factors are people to buy from, people to sell to,
the availability of drugs themselves (not ultimately scarce, but sometimes unavailable
to those who would otherwise buy them), and opportunities to make relatively safe
Terrorist organizations, by contrast, may be cash-constrained. They vary
enormously in their ability to solicit or extort contributions, and to steal or deal. An
open question is how large the effect would be if it were possible to substantially
reduce the money available to various kinds of terrorist groups from drug trafficking.
The answer to that question may vary greatly from group to group; to the extent that
al Qaeda, for example, is financed by the bin Laden family fortune or by fund-raising
in Saudi Arabia, its dependence on drug revenues could be very slight. By contrast,
drug revenues are undoubtedly important, perhaps central, to the financing both of
the FARC14 in Colombia and of the para-military forces opposing the FARC, as they
were to the Sendero Luminoso (“Shining Path”) in Peru.15 Spanish authorities report
that the March 2004 terrorist attacks on the Madrid train system that killed nearly 200
people and injured 1,400 others were financed largely by sales of hashish (a
marijuana derivative) and Ecstasy (MDMA).16
Chaos and Instability
Drug dealing can generate chaos and instability in source and transit countries
by sustaining violence, both within and among groups of traffickers and between
traffickers on the one hand and ordinary citizens and public authorities on the other.
The growth of a criminal economy is also a potentially destabilizing factor. Drug law
enforcement can create friction between law enforcement and military authorities on
the one hand and ordinary citizens, including small farmers who illicitly grow drug
crops, on the other. The secretive techniques of drug investigation can become
entangled with the practice of authoritarian rule, as appears to have happened under
the Fujimori17 government in Peru.
The primary insurgent group in Colombia, called the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia; the acronym is formed from the group’s Spanish name, Fuerzas Armadas
Revolucionarias de Colombia.
Testimony of DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson, in U.S. Congress, Senate Committee
on the Judiciary, Narco-Terrorism: The Worldwide Connection Between Drugs and
Terrorism, hearings, 107th Cong., 2nd sess., Mar. 13, 2002, S.Hrg. 107-885 (Washington:
GPO, 2001). See DEA’s website at [http://www.dea.gov/pubs/cngrtest/ct031302p.html].
Dale Fuchs, “Spain Says Bombers Drank Water from Mecca and Sold Drugs,” New York
Times, Apr. 15, 2004, p. A3.
Kevin G. Hall, “Military corruption dogs U.S. drug-fighting efforts in Peru,” Seattle Times,
Apr. 24, 2001, p. A8.
In addition, traffickers can deliberately create chaos in order to weaken the
ability of the institutions of government and civil society to interfere with their illegal
business. In Colombia, for example, the Medellin Cartel attempted to use terror to
deter the Colombian government from proceeding with vigorous law enforcement
The same effects can also take place in consumer countries. The retail drug
traffic, especially when it grows violent, can be a powerful source of chaos, as many
American neighborhoods discovered as the crack trade spread in the 1980s and early
1990s. It has been suggested, though not demonstrated, that drug trafficking has been
used as a form of low-intensity conflict.19 The theory is that forces hostile to a given
country might attempt to introduce or aggravate drug addiction problems there as a
means of attack.
Corruption and Intimidation
Large-scale drug trafficking frequently involves corrupt contacts between
traffickers and officials, including elected officials, enforcement agents, prosecutors
and judges, and military personnel. The corruption problem can be exacerbated by
low public-sector wages. Both corruption and anti-corruption measures can be
profoundly demoralizing, and can reduce the respect the public has for the agencies
of government. Even when corruption does not actually exist, the perception of
corruption can be corrosive. The resulting diminished public support for government
agencies makes the anti-drug effort that much more difficult.
Once corruption becomes embedded in the practice of an agency, it may not
remain restricted to its original domain; an army commander accustomed to taking
bribes from drug traffickers may be less resistant to bribes from terrorist groups.
(The opposite effect is also, of course, logically possible; the flow of corrupt money
from drug trafficking may make the bribes terrorist groups are capable of paying
seem too small to bother with from the viewpoint of officials used to larger bribes in
the drug business.)
The complement to corruption is intimidation. The Medellin Cartel in
Colombia famously offered officials a choice of “plata o plomo” (literally, “silver
or lead”): those who refused corrupt cash risked violence against themselves and
their families.20 Agencies demoralized by drug-related intimidation may be less
effective against terrorist groups.
Cover and Common Infrastructures
When it is impossible to conceal entirely the existence of illicit activity, more
serious crimes can be disguised as less serious crimes as a way of avoiding
Riley, 1996, p. 160.
Douglas, Joseph D., Red Cocaine: The Drugging of America and the West (New York and
London: Edward Harle Limited, 1999).
Ibid., p. 156.
enforcement attention or securing cooperation from accomplices willing to break
some laws but not others. Terrorists might attempt to use the appearance, or even the
actual practice, of drug trafficking as “cover” for themselves, their movements of
contraband, or their preparations for terrorist actions. In addition, the existence of
large illicit drug markets can facilitate terrorist activity by supporting a web of
“service providers” — such as money launderers, providers of “cloned” cell phones,
and makers of false identification documents — which terrorist groups can use, even
though the terrorists themselves would not constitute a big enough market to keep
such providers in business.
Another possibility is that terrorist material and personnel have moved, or will
in the future move, disguised as illicit drugs, just as illicit drugs have been known to
move disguised as other smuggled materials (e.g., diamonds). Unwitting
accomplices and complicit officials may be less reluctant to participate in what they
think is drug dealing than in helping carry out terrorist activity.21
It has been reported that some of the September 11 attackers used false
identification obtained from an illicit commercial seller of such documents, a seller
who did not know, or at least has not been charged with knowing, the end to which
the results of his illegal activity would be put.22 Whether that person’s other clientele
may have included drug traffickers has not been stated publicly ( his primary market
consisted of people defying the immigration laws), but there is no doubt that
forbidden drug transactions (down to the level of alcohol purchases by underage
drinkers) can and do make use of fraudulent documentation.
Drug traffickers need to consolidate cash they receive from further down their
organizations into larger bundles and protect the resulting financial or physical assets
from seizure, while terrorist organizers need instead to move money down their
organizations to where it is spent. Therefore, the two sets of mechanisms may tend
to remain quite distinct, except in cases where it is drug money earned in U. S.
transactions that then flows into terrorist hands. Indeed, providers of illicit services
to the drug trade have very strong incentives to avoid becoming entangled in terrorist
After the September 11 attack, there was considerable speculation that terrorists
might be making use of the same money-laundering services that support illicit drug
transactions. This suggestion does not seem to have been borne out; it appears that
a separate set of institutions (such as the informal hawala money-transfer networks),
related to international remittances more than to drug dealing, may be in play.23
See Rick Mofina, “Canadian Diamonds Could Lure Terrorists: Police” St. John’s
Telegram, Ottowa, Canada, Aug. 24, 2002, p. A9 for a discussion of the methods used to
smuggle drugs, precious gems, and other contraband.
P. Shenen and D. Van Natta, “A Nation Challenged: The Investigation; U.S. Says 3
Detainees May Be Tied to Highjackings,” New York Times, Nov. 1, 2001, p. A1.
Douglas Frantz, “U.S.-Based Charity is Under Scrutiny,” New York Times, June 14, 2002,
Competition for Enforcement Resources
The targeting of enforcement and intelligence resources sometimes involves
choosing between counter-drug targets and counter-terror targets. Other things being
equal, the larger the drug trafficking problem, the larger the resources required to
combat it, and those resources may then be unavailable for use against terrorist
targets. The extent to which new funding and organizational restructuring will
compensate for those “losses” is uncertain at this time.
The events of September 11 have already taken a toll on drug law enforcement.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has announced that a substantial fraction of the
agents it had assigned to drug law enforcement will be reassigned to meet the threat
of terrorism. The United States Customs Service has also redirected some of its
investigative resources.24 DEA agents are all devoted to drug law enforcement, but
the share of the DEA in the total federal law enforcement budget is not fixed, and it
is possible that the agency’s growth will be slowed by the budgetary demands of the
anti-terror effort.25 It is also possible that some of the anti-terror effort by local law
enforcement will employ resources that otherwise would have been devoted to drug
However, the extent of the competition should not be exaggerated; the two
efforts have elements of joint production as well as competition. While investigative
resources must be targeted against one threat or another, the activities of border
inspection and air and sea interdiction are much less specific. Anything that makes
it more difficult to smuggle contraband generally into the United States, for example,
increases the challenge facing drug traffickers and terrorist groups alike; heightened
scrutiny of passengers and freight in the immediate aftermath of September 11 led
to temporary reductions in drug-smuggling volume.26 On the other hand, some
screening approaches are specific rather than generic; a Geiger counter will not detect
drugs, and a Labrador will not alert on plutonium or anthrax spores.
The federal drug law enforcement effort, because of its size and international
scope, can also contribute to the struggle against terror by extending the reach of
complementary anti-drug enforcement mechanisms to a wider range of foreign
agencies. The international consensus on the issue of illicit drug trafficking may
allow the DEA (and investigators from other federal agents engaged in drug law
enforcement) to obtain the cooperation of foreign agencies in ways that might
otherwise be withheld from U.S. anti-terror units.
The links between some terrorists and drug trafficking may create exploitable
vulnerabilities for the terrorist groups involved. Drug traffickers frequently offer
R. Pear and P. Shenen, “Customs Switches Priority From Drugs to Terrorism,” New York
Times, Oct. 10, 2001, p. B11.
Patrick J. Murphy et al., Improving Anti-Drug Budgeting (Santa Monica, CA: RAND
Fox Butterfield, “Officials Report Drop in Drug Smuggling,” New York Times, Sept. 28,
2001, p. A16.
information about one another to investigators, both to damage their commercial
rivals and to build up their “favor banks” with enforcement agencies, either for
general future use or as a way of avoiding being charged in a pending case.27
Terrorist groups generally have much less occasion to employ such tactics.
Intelligence from the penetration of purely criminal organizations such as drug
trafficking groups is reported to be among the most valuable sources of information
about al Qaeda's activities.28
Drug Policy To Reduce the Terrorist Threat
The Importance of Scale
Whichever aspect of the potential drug/terror connection we look at, the sheer
scale of the illicit drug industry (measured in dollars) is an important determinant of
the contribution it may make to terrorism. The correct weighting of drug control
objectives against anti-terrorist objectives depends in part on how much drug
trafficking actually contributes to the threat of terrorist action, and how much antidrug efforts could do to reduce that contribution. Those factors, in turn, are likely to
vary from drug to drug.
The Multiple Goals of Drug Control Policy
Drug control policy involves a variety of distinct, and sometimes competing,
goals, other than combating terrorism.29 A partial list might include
! reducing the prevalence of any illicit drug use, especially among children and
reducing violence associated with drug trafficking;
reducing crime associated with drug use;
protecting neighborhoods from the disruptive effects of retail drug dealing;
preventing the employment of juveniles in the drug traffic;
protecting the public health from drug-related infectious diseases;
protecting the children of drug users from being damaged by their parents’
moderating the damage done by drug abuse to the health status, productivity,
and family functioning of users; and
Even the drug cartels themselves are known to offer information to the authorities against
one another as the case of Medellin Cartel head Pablo Escobar who believed that the Cali
cartel had aided the government in his manhunt - Riley (1996), p. 172. For more on the role
of informants, see Peter Reuter, Licensed Criminals: Police and Informants, RAND
Document P-6820, 1982.
Mark Huband, “Al-Qaeda Forms Drug Links as Anti-Terror War Bites,” Financial Times,
June 15, 2004, p. 5.
For a further discussion of drug control policy issues, see Mark A. R. Kleiman, Against
Excess: Drug Policy for Results (New York: Basic Books, 1992).
! reducing the prevalence of accidents due to intoxication.
The part of drug control policy concerned with reducing the drug contribution
to terrorism will not necessarily serve all of these goals. That does not mean that the
remaining goals should be abandoned, but it does imply that tradeoffs may need to
Moreover, all drugs are not likely to make the same contributions to the
terrorism threat, either quantitatively or qualitatively. Ecstasy (MDMA) produced
in the Netherlands and smuggled into the United States by Russian and Israeli
organized-crime groups obviously poses a different set of issues than cocaine
produced in FARC-dominated regions of Colombia.
Even the same drug may have very different implications for terrorism in
different circumstances: where it comes from, how it travels, and which
organizations traffic in it all make a difference. The United States gets the bulk of
its heroin from poppies grown in Colombia, a smaller amount from poppies grown
in Southeast Asia, and relatively little from poppies grown in Southwest Asia,
including Afghanistan. Most of the heroin produced from the Afghani poppy crop
either stays in Asia or is trafficked into Europe. Thus in the period leading up to
September 11, 2001, European heroin consumption potentially helped finance al
Qaeda activities, or helped support the Taliban regime which harbored al Qaeda, but
heroin consumption in the United States likely did not. U.S. heroin consumption
may have contributed to the terrorist threat in Colombia, and perhaps in Mexico, but
likely had very little impact on Afghanistan or its neighbors.30 (Unlike petroleum,
for example, which is traded in world markets, so that increased demand or decreased
supply anywhere tends to raise prices everywhere, the illicit trade in heroin tends to
be compartmentalized, so that prices for poppy can be high in Colombia but low in
Afghanistan, or vice versa.) By contrast, anyone concerned with the terror problem
in Colombia can afford to ignore Asian heroin consumption, because virtually no
Colombian-source heroin makes its way to Asia.31
The international drug traffic involves large numbers of organizations of various
sizes. Some may be connected to, or subject to extortion by, terrorist groups; others
may not.32 Drugs flow along many different pathways. Even for a given drug,
U.S. Department of Justice, National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), National Drug
Threat Assessment 2002, Document 2002-J0403-002, Dec. 2001, p. 19, available at
With Southeast Asia producing opium in quantities sufficient to yield between 90 and 110
metric tons of heroin (NDIC measure cited above), there is no current need for import to the
markets of China and Asia. Roughly 3 metric tons (6,600 pounds) made it to U.S. markets,
according to NDIC.
In Columbia, for example, the M-19 guerrilla movement has allegedly been “retained” by
the drug cartels to provide protection and to carry out some of the bloodier retaliatory
attacks on Columbian citizens and symbols of civil authority. The November 1985 attack
on the Columbian Palace of Justice that resulted in more than 100 fatalities at a time when
the Columbian Supreme Court was nearing a decision on the legality of extraditing drug
country of origin, and trafficking route, there may still be crucial distinctions among
trafficking organizations. Because different drug traffickers compete with one
another, pressure put on any one translates into improved opportunities for the
remainder. Thus effective enforcement against one smuggling route encourages the
development of others, and alternatives developed under enforcement pressure may
have greater connection to actual or potential terrorism than the ones they replace.
For example, cocaine and heroin from Colombia flows into the United States
either by air and sea through the Caribbean and into South Florida, the Gulf Coast,
and the East Coast, or overland through Central America and Mexico and across the
Southwest Border.33 Since these two routes compete with each other, pressure on
either indirectly encourages the use of the other; the vast increase in enforcement
pressure on the Caribbean route in the 1980s created the incentive for the
development of the overland route. That probably reduced somewhat the possible
contribution of drug-related money, chaos, and corruption to political violence in
(e.g., the Dominican Republic), but increased those risks in Guatemala and Mexico.
Without speculating as to whether that change represented a net gain or loss from a
counter-terror perspective, it might be noted that published reports of the policy
discussions regarding the build-up in Caribbean enforcement do not mention any
discussion of the possible impacts of that move on Central American and Mexican
In considering how to allocate our drug enforcement resources, policymakers
may want to consider the effects on how the drugs flow. In addition to influencing
the overall size of the market, enforcement can influence its composition and
conduct. Organizations, drugs, and trafficking routes are not uniform in their
potential contributions to terrorism. Insofar as enforcement concentrates
differentially on those aspects of the drug trade most likely to be linked to terror, it
may exert both direct effects, by dismantling some organizations, and indirect effects,
by creating a relative competitive disadvantage for those organizations whose
trafficking activity is most prone to support terrorism, which in turn will help shape
Not every enforcement activity that reduces drug consumption reduces the
demand for imported drugs. Enforcement against U.S. production of drugs that are
also imported (for example, eradication of the domestic cannabis crop and
crackdowns on domestic methamphetamine production) may shrink consumption of
those drugs overall by making them more expensive and less available to U.S.
consumers, but will tend to increase demand at the import level, creating new
opportunities for overseas drug producers and traffickers. The net effect on the
terrorist threat is not obvious. It would depend not only on how the resulting
overseas production and import activity tied in with terrorism, but also on the details
suspects to the United States was attributed to this ad hoc alliance. Riley, 1996. p. 159161).
ONDCP, “Estimation of Cocaine Availability 1996-2000,” Mar. 2002, pp. 18-20.
Available at [http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/pdf/cocaine2002.pdf].
of the domestic production and trafficking that is displaced, some of which may be
linked to terrorism.
The same is true of that part of the enforcement effort devoted to seizing drugs,
as opposed to arresting traffickers or seizing non-drug assets. Drug seizures actually
increase the demand for drug imports, thus potentially contributing to problems in
source countries, because cocaine refiners must buy from coca producers enough leaf
to produce the amount drug users buy and consume, plus the amount enforcement
agencies seize and destroy. From the grower’s viewpoint, a ton seized is no different
from a ton consumed. If the seizure process were so efficient that traffickers stopped
trying, leading to a physical shortage and massive price increases, the result might be
to shrink the market overall, but the replacement cost of seized drugs is so small
compared to the value of landing them successfully that traffickers seem to be willing
to run very substantial seizure risks without being deterred.34
It is estimated that total cocaine seizures now amount to approximately onequarter of the total amount of cocaine shipped to the United States,35 but the price of
cocaine remains near its all-time lows36 and no physical shortages have been reported
since the fall of the Medellin Cartel in 1989 produced a temporary (roughly six
month) supply interruption.37
The incorporation of a counter-terror perspective into drug policy decision
making could involve adding such considerations at every stage of the drug
enforcement process. Enforcement initiatives that may seem justified from a purely
drug control perspective may have to be reconsidered if their net effect on the
terrorist threat would be in the wrong direction, as might be true, for example, in the
case of some interdiction efforts.
For example, the direct support the Taliban regime in Afghanistan received from
drug trafficking (and indirect U.S. support for its counter-drug efforts) helped keep
it in power during the time its territory was being used by al Qaeda as a base from
which to plot hostilities against the United States. In that case, then, the drug money
that may have (indirectly) supported terrorism became a direct threat to the United
States. (It is less clear whether any of the assistance provided by the United States
to replace the incomes of poppy farmers put out of business by the Taliban’s
prohibition on poppy production38 in practice helped keep the Taliban in power. The
P. Reuter, G. Crawford, and J. Cave, Sealing the Borders: Effects of Increased Military
Efforts in Drug Interdiction (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 1988).
Estimation of Cocaine Availability, pp. 10-11.
What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs, 2000, figure 9, p. 57.
Even this shortage had limited impact on the domestic market. The price of cocaine per
milligram, as calculated above, showed a significant increase at the retail (street) level in
early 1990 but returned to previous levels within the year and then began to decline to
U.S. Department of State, “Rocca Meets Taliban Representative in Islamabad,” Aug. 2,
2001 at [http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01080202.htm] and U.S. Department of
same applies to the other relief aid that flowed to Afghanistan in that period —
though not directly to the Taliban government — from a variety of international
sources, reportedly as a “reward” to the Taliban for the poppy ban.) On the other
hand, drug trafficking also helped sustain some elements of the Northern Alliance
that were allies of the United States in ousting the Taliban. Insofar as the goal is to
protect the United States against terrorist acts, we need not merely to cut down on the
drug-related contribution to terrorism generally, but to the drug-related contribution
to terrorist groups that threaten us.
Shrinking the Drug Markets
In the most abstract terms, the scale of the illicit drug markets is determined by
demand, price, and availability. The markets can be reduced by shrinking demand
(in the technical economic sense of that term: reducing the amount of illicit drugs
consumers are willing to buy at any given price), by increasing the retail prices of
illicit drugs (and thus reducing the quantity consumed at any given level of demand),
or by making drugs less available in ways other than raising prices (one way to think
of this is in terms of increasing the time, risk, and inconvenience required for a
consumer to find a supplier, a concept referred to in the drug abuse control literature
as “search time.”)39
Shrinking demand, reducing availability, and increasing price will all tend to
reduce total physical and financial volume. It was formerly believed that raising drug
prices would lead to increases in total revenues due to what was thought to be
relatively inelastic demand by drug consumers; more recent evidence suggests
strongly that demand for illicit drugs is more than unit-elastic, so that a price increase
tends to produce a more-than-offsetting decrease in quantity purchased and thus a
shrinkage in total revenues.40 The fact that drug consumption at one point in time
tends to increase effective demand at later points — because of the development both
of social and personal habit patterns of drug use and of pharmacologically-based
tolerance and dependency — reinforces this effect.
The Difficulty of Raising Prices in Mature Markets. Perhaps the greatest
surprise in the field of drug policy over the past generation has been the persistent
failure of hard-drug prices to rise in the face of greatly expanded enforcement efforts.
The scale of the drug enforcement enterprise, as measured by the number of
traffickers in prison, has grown nearly 30-fold since 1980; even adjusting for the rise
State, “Rocca on $1.5 Million in Aid to Former Afghan Poppy Growers,” Aug. 2, 2001 at
Peter Reuter and Mark A.R. Kleiman, “Risks and Prices: An Economic Analysis of Drug
Enforcement,” in Norval Morris and Michael Tonry, eds., Crime and Justice: An Annual
Review of Research, v. 7. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 301-306; and
Jack K. Riley, Crack, Powder Cocaine, and Heroin : Drug Purchase and Use Patterns in
Six U.S. Cities, ONDCP, 1997, pp. 14-21, at [http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles/167265.pdf].
Jonathan P. Caulkins, “Estimating Elasticities of Demand for Cocaine and Heroin With
Data from the Drug Use Forecasting System,” unpublished Manuscript (1995), H. John
Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management, Carnegie Mellon University.
of heroin and cocaine volumes over that period, the increase in enforcement intensity
(the ratio of enforcement effort to the size of the underlying market) has been roughly
five-fold. Yet cocaine and heroin prices have actually fallen, in inflation-adjusted
dollars, by approximately 80% each, and remain near their lowest levels.41 Cannabis
prices, which rose in the face of increased enforcement in the late 1970s and early
1980s, have also been drifting lower despite continued vigorous law enforcement
There is considerable uncertainty about the reasons for the behavior of drug
prices over the past two decades, and no consensus about what the course of drug
prices would have been in the face of different policies. It may be the case that,
beyond a certain size, drug markets become so resilient that enforcement has great
difficulty influencing them. But there appears now to be little reason to think that
any feasible increase in drug law enforcement effort could substantially increase
prices. The Drug Enforcement Administration, which once used to refer to its price
series as its “Performance Measurement System,” no longer considers increasing
drug prices as a gauge of its effectiveness.
Insofar as additional enforcement is not likely to substantially raise the prices
of those drugs associated with terrorist activity, then bringing about such a price
increase as a way of shrinking the volume in the drug markets cannot be listed as one
of the more promising options for dealing with the threat posed by terrorist
The Difficulty of Reducing Availability in Mature Markets. There
remain differences of opinion about the extent to which enforcement can have lasting
effects on drug availability. The standard, skeptical view holds that retail-level
enforcement — efforts directed at the dealers who make the final sale to drug users,
and the immediate suppliers of those retail dealers, as opposed to higher-level
traffickers — can only move markets around rather than actually shrinking them.
That view is challenged by scattered success stories43 and by dramatic differences in
user-reported difficulty in purchasing drugs between New York (after its wellpublicized crackdown on retail drug dealing) and other cities.44
Academic proponents of retail-oriented enforcement strategies emphasize the
importance of disrupting the markets, rather than merely making many arrests, and
argue in consequence for concentration, rather than dispersion, of retail enforcement
activity. In yet-unpublished work, David Kennedy has begun to explore arrestminimizing techniques for disrupting markets, in recognition of the fact that the cost
What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs, 2000, pp. 57-58.
Ibid., figure 12, p. 60
For example, see M. Kleiman, Crackdowns: The Effects of Intensive Enforcement on
Retail Heroin Dealing, in Marcia R. Chaiken (ed.), Street Level Drug Enforcement:
Examining the Issues (Washington: National Institute of Justice, 1988), and David M.
Kennedy, Closing the Market: Controlling the Drug Trade in Tampa, Florida, National
Institute of Justice Program Focus, NCJ Number: 139963, April 1993.
Riley, Table 21, 1997, pp. 19-20.
of drug crackdowns in police and court resources represent one of the most important
barriers to their widespread use, and that the costs depend directly on the number of
In theory, it might be possible to shrink drug volumes by systematically
reducing retail availability. However, the efficacy of such a strategy depends on stillunproven claims about the capacities of law enforcement and about the effect of
changes in retail availability on long-run drug consumption patterns, and especially
of the consumption patterns of chronic high-dose illicit drug users, who collectively
account for the vast bulk of illicit drug consumption.
If, as seems plausible, the level of violence were roughly proportional to some
combination of the volume of transactions and the revenues of the industry,
increasing search time would tend to decrease violence. On the other hand, a
shrinking market might lead to increased levels of violent disputes among market
participants, especially if dealers from a market forced out of existence by a
crackdown attempt to poach on others’ established sales territories. Since illicit drug
prices now seem hard to influence, and since availability is directly determined by
the numbers, social and spatial distribution, and behavior of retail sellers rather than
that of large-scale distributors, it can be argued that retail-level drug law enforcement
would be the most promising means of controlling non-drug crime.
However, in the absence of a well-worked-out and empirically tested theory of
how the different levels of the drug traffic relate to each other — which may not be
the same for all drugs, or for all times and places — one cannot rule out the
by some enforcement officials and researchers, that
enforcement directed at high-level dealers, particularly in source and transit zones,
could, under some circumstances, decisively influence availability, and do so far
more cost-effectively than retail-level strategies.45
For now, however, neither high-level nor retail-level enforcement can be
considered highly likely to succeed in reducing the size of the drug markets. And,
considered from the perspective of reducing terrorist threats, drug law enforcement
may not be risk-free. Roughly 150,000 persons are sentenced to prison each year on
drug charges — approximately one-quarter of the total influx to prison — and a
comparable number are released. In addition to whatever effect prison might have
in increasing propensities to violence generally, prisons are recruiting grounds for
violent gangs with outside-the-walls affiliates and for extremist religious groups.
While there have been no known attempts by overseas terrorist groups to recruit
members in U.S. prisons or from among prison releasees, those populations would
B.D. Crane, A.R. Rivolo, and G.C. Comfort, An Empirical Examination of Counterdrug
Interdiction Program Effectiveness, Institute for Defense Analysis, IDA paper, 1997, p.
3219; but see also Charles F. Manski, John V. Pepper, and Yonette Thomas, eds.,
Assessment of Two Cost-Effectiveness Studies on Cocaine Control Policy, Committee on
Data and Research for Policy on Illegal Drugs, Committee on Law and Justice and
Committee on National Statistics, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and
Education (Washington: National Academy Press, 1999).
seem to be natural recruiting targets.46 Even a very low success rate from such a
large population could constitute a substantial increment to the potential supply of
terrorists. Arguably, increasing the number of prisoners increases the number of
potential terrorist recruits.
The Complexities of Demand Reduction. The volume of the drug traffic,
both physically and financially, which largely determines its potential contribution
to terrorism, depends on drug users, who consume the drugs and pay for them, and
in particular on high-dose, chronic drug users, who account for most of the total retail
expenditure on illicit drugs.47 That is the basis of the idea that drug demand
reduction deserves a central place in policy thinking, in particular if the question is
how to reduce the contribution of drug trafficking to terror.
“Demand reduction” names a goal, but does not name a single program, or
group of programs. While prevention and treatment are often thought of as
constituting the “demand side” of the anti-drug effort and enforcement the “supply
side,” matters on the ground are much less simple. First, the effective demand for
any drug is in part a function of its retail availability; even consumers, who desire to
acquire a drug, and have the money to pay for it, may be unable to buy if there is no
seller geographically and socially convenient to them. From the viewpoint of largescale drug suppliers, retail drug law enforcement, when it is successful in suppressing
market activity rather than merely shifting it around, acts as a demand reduction
measure. The same is true insofar as retail enforcement, and drug testing programs
in various venues, act as deterrents to drug use.
The most familiar, and popular, demand reduction programs are drug abuse
prevention programs, which include school-based, community-based, and massmedia efforts.48 What they have in common is a goal of preventing, or at least
retarding in time, the initiation of illicit drug use (and of the underage use of alcohol
and tobacco). These programs are relatively inexpensive on a per-person basis and
can therefore be applied to the entire population. When they are effective, they are
extremely cost-effective as a means of reducing the number of illicit drug users.
However, two factors may limit the capacity of such programs to make a substantial
impact on the physical and financial flows in the illicit markets. First, even for the
best prevention programs the measured effect sizes — the proportionate reduction
in the number of persons engaging in the target behaviors — tend to be modest: a
reduction in, for example, the rate of marijuana smoking in a seventh-grade cohort
from 13% among “untreated” individuals to 10% among those exposed to a
Chuck Colson, “Evangelizing For Evil In Our Prisons,” The Wall Street Journal, June 24,
2002, p. A16.
Mark A.R. Kleiman, “Coerced Abstinence: A Neo-Paternalistic Drug Policy Initiative,”
in Mead, Lawrence A. ed., The New Paternalism (Brookings Institution Press, 1997), pp.
J.P. Caulkins et al., An Ounce of Prevention, a Pound of Uncertainty: The CostEffectiveness of School-Based Drug Prevention Programs (Santa Monica, CA: RAND
Corp., 1999), pp. 1-9.
prevention program is considered a state-of-the-art result.49 Second, most of those
whose illicit drug use is prevented would never have become heavy users in any case,
both because the transition from experimental use to heavy use is itself relatively
infrequent and, possibly, because the very factors that make young people receptive
to prevention messages may reduce their risks of progressing to heavy use even if
they do initiate the consumption of illicit drugs.
The total number of illicit drug users is often considered the most important
measure of the success of demand reduction efforts. But focusing on reducing the
potential contribution of the drug problem to terrorism would shift the emphasis from
the total number of drug users to the much smaller number of heavy users. Illicit drug
users vary greatly in the quantities they consume, and therefore in the revenues they
contribute to the illicit markets. A small fraction of all the users account for the vast
bulk of total purchases, in accordance with “Pareto’s Law,” also known as the 80/20
rule, which finds that for many activities one-fifth of the number of persons involved
account for four-fifths of the volume of transactions.50 Shrinking the number of
occasional users (except insofar as some of them would later have developed into
heavy users) can make only a small contribution to reducing the volume of illicit
drugs consumed. (The phenomenon is not limited to illicit drugs; alcohol
consumption, which is more reliably known because sales are taxed and drinkers less
unwilling to honestly describe their behavior than users of illicit drugs, follows the
same pattern, with half of all alcohol consumed by the 10% heaviest drinkers and
four-fifths of all alcohol consumed by the 20% heaviest drinkers.) In the case of
cocaine, the entire population surveyed by the National Household Survey on Drug
Abuse reports consuming no more than 10% of the actual volume of cocaine sold.
Although account needs to be taken of the candor of individuals responding to a
survey on illicit drug usage, the 10% figure still suggests the presence of a large
“hidden” population of very heavy users who absorb the bulk of the cocaine sold.
The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) system51 (recently terminated
by its sponsor, the National Institute of Justice) shows a very heavy concentration of
drug use among property and violent crime offenders. The ADAM results, and other
studies of offender populations, tend to confirm the existence of such a group of
heavy users, not only for cocaine but for heroin and methamphetamine as well. This
group of high-volume, persistent user-offenders, estimated at no more than about 3
million individuals, makes up the heart of the hard-drug markets. (Cannabis
Ibid., pp. 81-84. Mark A.R. Kleiman, “Addiction, Rationality, Behavior and Measures:
Some Comments on the Problems of Integrating Econometric and Behavioral Economic
Research,” in Frank J. Chaloupka, Warren K. Bickel, Michael Grossman, and Henry Saffer,
eds., The Economic Analysis of Substance Use and Abuse: An Integration of Econometric
and Behavioral Economic Research (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp.
242-247, National Bureau of Economic Research.
Mark A.R. Kleiman, “Controlling Drug Use and Crime with Testing, Sanctions, and
Treatment,” in P.H. Heymann, and W.N. Brownsberger, eds., Drug Addiction and Drug
Policy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), pp. 168-192.
U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring
Program (ADAM), 1999 Annual Report on Drug Use Among Adult and Juvenile Arrestees,
June 2000, at [http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/pdf/adam99.pdf].
consumption also appears to be heavily concentrated, but chronic property and
violent offenders represent a much smaller proportion of cannabis users than is the
case for heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine. Therefore, controlling offender drug
use would have a smaller effect on the marijuana markets than on the markets for
“hard” drugs.) Members of this population have average expenditures of more than
$10,000 per year on cocaine and heroin,52 which explains both their capacity to
absorb so much of the supply and their concentration among offenders.
Shrinking the hard-drug markets thus depends largely on shrinking the
consumption of this group of high-dose, chronic users, sometimes known as “hardcore” users and identified, not entirely accurately, with “addicts.”
The best-known approach to doing so is providing more drug treatment services.
Clear evidence from a wide range of studies indicates that high-volume drug users
who enter and remain in treatment tend to make substantial reductions in their drug
use while treatment lasts, and that the reductions tend to carry over into the posttreatment period. That appears to be true across virtually the entire range of
treatment approaches. It is also the case that the number of treatment “slots” is
exceeded by the number of persons estimated to be “in need of” drug treatment by
various approaches. Some have concluded from those findings that increasing the
number of hard-core users in treatment is the best approach to reducing the overall
size of the drug problem, and have gone on to argue that increasing public funding
for drug treatment programs is the most cost-effective approach to shrinking the drug
markets.53 To the extent that is the case, and to the limited extent that the drug
markets help support terrorism, then drug treatment should be considered as one
means of reducing terrorist risk.
Even under fairly conservative assumptions, it can be argued that increasing
support for publicly paid drug treatment would have benefits well in excess of costs.
However, it should be noted that funding is by no means the only barrier — perhaps
it is not even the most important — to treatment participation. There has been
considerable discussion of the “treatment gap,” defined as the difference between the
number of persons needing treatment and the number actually receiving it, and there
is a belief that closing that gap with additional spending will greatly shrink the illicit
markets. But neither of those ideas should be accepted without qualification, and
What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs, 2000, pp. 12-14.
C.P. Rydell and S.S. Everingham, Controlling Cocaine: Supply Versus Demand Programs,
(Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp.); B.D. Crane, A.R. Rivolo, and G.C. Comfort, An
Empirical Examination of Counterdrug Inderdiction Program Effectiveness (Alexandria,
VA: Institute for Defense Analysis, 1997), p. 3219. David Boyum, Costs and Benefits of
Drug Treatment and Drug Enforcement : A Review of the CALDATA and RAND Studies,
1995, ONDCP; Charles F. Manski, John V. Pepper, and Yonette Thomas eds., Assessment
of Two Cost-Effectiveness Studies on Cocaine Control Policy, Committee on Data and
Research for Policy on Illegal Drugs, Committee on Law and Justice and Committee on
National Statistics, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
(Washington: National Academy Press, 1999); and J.P. Caulkins, et al., Response to the
National Research Council’s Assessment of RAND’s Controlling Cocaine Study (Santa
Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2000).
expanding the supply of drug treatment is not the only, or necessarily the most
effective or cost-effective, approach to reducing drug use among heavy drug users.
Treatment, too, can be analyzed in terms of supply and demand. While the need
for treatment as defined by diagnostic criteria clearly outstrips current treatment
capacity, it is much less clear that current capacity falls short of the actual number of
users willing to undergo treatment. While most seriously impaired drug users would
probably prefer to lead less disordered lives, that does not necessarily translate into
a desire to give up drug use, still less the desire and determination to undergo, and
remain with, the difficult process of recovery. Within the criminal justice system, as
many as half of all those offenders assigned to treatment in lieu of criminal
punishment never show up for a first treatment appointment, and a substantial
proportion of those who do appear quickly to drop out. Increasing the demand for
treatment is as difficult and as important as increasing its supply. (Improving
treatment quality poses different challenges.)
While there are indeed waiting lists in some treatment programs, there are also
programs unable to recruit enough clients to fill their allocated “slots.” Rather than
addressing a “treatment gap,” it would be more accurate to talk of “treatment gaps,”
in the plural: shortfalls in the capacity to provide particular services, such as
residential programs for mothers with small children.
One possible approach to increasing the effective demand for treatment is to use
the pressure that the criminal justice system provides to compel user-offenders to
enter into treatment and remain there. That is the common core of a wide mix of
programs: both drug diversion programs, either discretionary with the court or, as
with California’s Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act (“Proposition 36”),
mandated by law, and drug courts, which combine the diversion concept with direct
supervision of the treatment process, and treatment compliance, by a judge who can
impose sanctions on offenders who do not hold up their part of the diversion bargain.
In addition, drug treatment can be, and often is, imposed as a condition of probation
or parole, even for offenders who do not request, or receive, a formal diversion
agreement in which punishment is suspended in favor of treatment.
However, the mandate to treatment, both under diversion programs and under
probation and parole supervision, is frequently more nominal than real. Few
community-corrections agencies are staffed or organized to monitor treatment
compliance and deliver reliable sanctions for non-compliance. That is the advantage
claimed by drug courts, but even judicial supervision has not proven to be a magic
bullet. The voluntary nature of drug courts and diversion programs (offenders can,
and some do, refuse the offer of diversion and accept instead the ordinary punishment
for the crimes they are charged with) also limits their potential scope.
An alternative, or complementary, approach would be to use the powers of the
criminal justice system in an attempt to compel desistance from illicit drug use
directly, rather than trying to compel treatment attendance. It has been proposed that
frequent drug tests for probationers and parolees, with reliable sanctions for
continued drug use, could reach a larger population than the coerced-treatment
approaches can, with comparable effectiveness in reducing drug use and much
greater cost-effectiveness. There is some evidence that such programs can be
effective, but there is also great difficulty in putting them into practice, given the
procedural demands of imposing sanctions for probation violations (which tend to
put an undesirable gap in time between the forbidden behavior and the sanction
intended to deter it) and the organizational and funding challenges faced by probation
departments, many of which have no more than a dollar a day to spend on
supervising each of their clients.54
Even with all these difficulties, addressing the problem of drug use among hardcore user-offenders may in the view of many experts, represent the single best
opportunity for reducing the volume of illicit drugs consumed in the United States.
The threat of terrorism would provide one more reason to concentrate on this part of
the drug problem.
American drug policy is not, and should not be, driven entirely, or even
primarily, by the need to reduce the contribution of drug abuse to our vulnerability
to terrorist action. There are too many other goals to be served by the drug abuse
control effort. However, the links between the two issues are sufficiently clear that
the institutions of drug abuse control would be wise to factor the impact of their
activities on the terrorist threat into their decision-making. Such a focus could
involve employing enforcement to reduce the opportunities that drug trafficking
provides to terrorist groups, and focusing the demand control effort more on the
issue of hard-core user-offenders.
Mark A.R. Kleiman, “Controlling Drug Use and Crime with Testing, Sanctions, and
Treatment,” in P.H. Heymann, and W.N. Brownsberger eds., Drug Addiction and Drug
Policy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), pp. 168-192; Mark A.R. Kleiman,
“Coerced Abstinence: A Neo-Paternalistic Drug Policy Initiative,” in Lawrence A. Mead,
ed., The New Paternalism (Brookings Institution Press, 1997), pp. 15-16.; William N.
Brownsberger, “Limits on the Role of Testing and Sanctions,” in P.H. Heymann, and W.N.
Brownsberger, eds., Drug Addiction and Drug Policy. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 2001), pp. 193-205.; and Mark A.R. Kleiman, T. Tran, P. Fishbein, Maria-Teresa
Magula, W. Allen, and G. Lacy, “Opportunities and Barriers in Probation Reform: A Case
Study of Drug Testing and Sanctions,” California Policy Research Center, CPRC Brief, vol.
14, no. 4, June 2002.