Illegal Drugs Are Cheaper And More Potent Than Ever

Illegal Drugs Are Cheaper And More Potent Than Ever

The latest data from seven international government-funded drug surveillance systems indicates that the so-called ‘war’ on drugs is failing. Over the past 20 years, not only have street prices fallen but the purity/potency of illegal drugs has actually increased.

Stoned picture from Shutterstock

New research funded by the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy has confirmed that government-led crackdowns on illegal drugs fail to curb supply, despite a marked increase in law enforcement resources to combat the problem.

The research team collected data from seven international drug surveillance databases — including the Illicit Drug Reporting System in Australia — and systematically searched for longitudinal measures of illegal drug supply indicators to assess the long-term impact of enforcement-based supply reduction interventions. Each database contained at least ten years of information on the price and purity of cannabis, cocaine and opiates, including heroin.

The report found that with few exceptions, the purity/potency of illegal drugs either remained stable or increased between 1990 and 2010. Meanwhile, the street price of each drug generally fell over the same time period.

This study demonstrates that during the past two decades, the supply of major illegal drugs has increased, as measured through a general decline in the price and a general increase in the purity of illegal drugs in a variety of settings.

In Australia, the average inflation-adjusted price of cocaine decreased 14 percent, while the inflation-adjusted price of heroin and cannabis both decreased 49 percent between 2000 and 2010.

In the USA the price drop was even more significant, with the average inflation-adjusted prices of heroin, cocaine and cannabis decreasing by 81 percent, 80 percent and 86 percent respectively. (Insert ‘Aussie tax’ joke here.)

The report concludes that despite large investments in enforcement-based supply reduction efforts aimed at disrupting global drug supply, illegal drug prices have generally decreased while drug purity has generally increased since 1990.

“These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing.”

The temporal relationship between drug supply indicators: an audit of international government surveillance systems [BMJ]


    • The law’s failure to stop drug use isn’t surprising, but the drop in street price is. Usually when there’s a crackdown on something the price increases.

    • I’m with @chrisjager – what are you duh-ing exactly?

      Are you such a frequent purveyor of said illegal drugs, that this insight is little more than old news?

  • The government should take over the whole operation – people who want get drugs, will get drugs, no matter how illegal you make them.
    It would be smarter if the government starts planting & producing that stuff, so those who actually want to get high or buzzed or whatever, can buy it in the apothecary. I know it might just sound wrong, but will the addict stop using just because you outlaw it? Or will someone start using it just because it’s legal?
    Cigarettes cause cancer, alcohol causes much worse (drink driving, liver problems, violence etc), yet it’s legal – everyone can get drunk and smoke ’til kingdom come. Everyone knows the risks. Why not do the same thing with dope & all the other stuff that is currently illegal?

    • Booze and cigarettes are legal because the government gets tax out of them, and while they don’t make them available, they control them, as is evidenced by store owners not being allowed to even display cigarette packets, just a price list and a bunch of warnings.

      Of course, that’s not the only reason (some drugs are dangerous to manufacture and can seriously mess you up if you take them for too long), but it’s one reason.

      • Alcohol & tobacco products do the same =/ pretty much anything in an over abundance or abused for too long will though.

        • You don’t even need to abuse it – eat 1 kg of salt, or just a spoon full of cinnamon, and you end up in emergency. Cinnamon!
          And Gov’t could slap taxes on pot and the rest the same way it does on alcohol and tobacco. You control it, and with that, you don’t have to fight it.

          • That’s true. Though I think eating a kilo of salt would be abuse on your body some how 😛 Ugh cinnamon, I don’t know why people were stupid enough to do that “challenge”

      • It’s arguably not so much because of the tax (considering that the amount of health care resources spent on health issues related to tobacco and alcohol, and police resources used for alcohol related crime) but because they’re traditionally acceptable drugs and banning them (particularly with respects to alcohol) would cause too much of a political backlash.

      • But also booze and cigs have been around for a long time so it’s harder to ban them.

        If the goverment legalised other drugs, you can beat your bottom dollar they’d tax them too. I think it’s a good idea myself. Within reason. Heroin and Cocaine are too dangerous.

    • So your argument seems to be if the government cannot completely control a market, it should run it. err… Internal logic fail.

      Additionally, relative risks are an entirely inappropriate line of ‘evidence’. “Getting harpooned is not as bad as getting shot, so lets legalise harpooning” type arguments are bunk. Something is either acceptably harmful, or it’s not. It’s not a relative concept.

      Reasons for cheap drugs? Economies of scale. Better transportation and importing infrastructure. Afghan coming back on-line. More supply.

      This is a supply-side issue. Most government policy looks at altering demand (because most drugs are imported). It’s a losing proposition, but it’s a component of the old-chestnut “tough on crime” vote-winner.

      Ensuring that the poor farmers that grow the original plants aren’t poor and can make a viable living from other crops.. that doesn’t win any votes.

      • At the moment, the gov’t isn’t controlling squat in all that. All the gov’t does is trying to get the upper hand, but try scooping water with your fingers spread – same effect. You get a gush or two while you miss 2 gallons.
        – Something is either acceptably harmful, or it’s not. It’s not a relative concept.
        So are drugs – and if you look how many people are getting killed by drunk drivers, or bashed up by drunk people, then I rather take the stoned hippie than an aggro drunk. I’ve never seen an aggro hippie.
        – It’s a losing proposition, but it’s a component of the old-chestnut “tough on crime” vote-winner.
        Right, because “let’s waste millions of your tax money on something we cannot win” sure cashes in the votes.
        The war on drugs is lost.

        • I don’t disagree with “the war on drugs is lost’ simply because “the war” (don’t you love the language of it) is designed to win votes.

          There’s no point in comparing drugs. It’s similar to comparing crime. Is shop-lifting worse or better than robbery? It’s a silly way to make policy. The example you use does not require any comparison. Alcohol (a legal drug) is probably far more harmful than pot. And? Cigarettes are far more harmful than anything else, but in a different way.

          A framework needs to be constructed that evaluates the harm of drugs and sets enforcement measures appropriately. Alcohol’s effects are far more society-based, where as smoking’s effects result in preventable (often terminal) illness that places a huge burden on the hospital and health system, They’re totally different, and need to be treated as such.

          • Can you please run for office? You’re totally right, but as long as you’re saying it on the net… pretty much nothing happens.

            but I like your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!