Squeezing Blood from a Stone:

The Elusive Nature of an Effective US Antidrug Policy

Mark C. DeMier, NDCF Research Assistant

A year ago, William Bennett, former drug policy director during the Bush administration, stated that "cocaine treatment is only 4% effective in reducing heavy [drug] use and only 2% more effective in reducing heavy use than no treatment at all." At the same time, current estimates suggest that only 10-15% of all cocaine in distribution is interdicted before reaching our cities’ streets.

The death and destruction wrought by the scourge of illicit drugs is undeniable, and no current antidrug policies seem to have had much impact. Meanwhile, drug use by 12 to 17 year olds has increased 80%, with a corresponding increase in juvenile crime, since President Clinton took office in 1992. Drug policy strategist Robert B. Charles, Staff Director and Chief Counsel to the Subcommittee on National Security, implies that President Clinton’s drug policy priorities are woefully misguided. He writes, "Drug treatment for a limited number of older, chronic addicts has been favored over accountable, juvenile drug prevention; and the Administration has made a public shift away from transit zone interdiction, favoring source country programs, but has not shifted the resources necessary to sustain their stated priority on source country programs." [emphasis added]

Source: ONDCP/NDCF (1982-84=100, Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Compared to a total drug budget of about $1.5 billion in 1981, President Clinton requested $15.1 billion to fund drug-control efforts in FY 1996, a 9.3% increase from FY 1995.

Clearly, our efforts have been heavily weighted on domestic spending. Why do we seem to insist on waiting for the horrible problems associated with drug abuse to come to us, where we are forced to spend billions of dollars on treatment and crime control, instead of cutting the supply of drugs off at the source?

America is losing the War on Drugs, and our casualties are defenseless. Preliminary statistical testing shows that the predictability of supply–side reduction programs is about twice as significant in reducing overall illicit drug use than demand–side programs:

*Corellation Results with Percentage of Illicit Drug Use 1981-1995
(Budget figures adjusted for inflation:  1982-84=100)


International Programs

Drug Interdiction Activities

Domestic Law Enforcement



Pearson’s R





(*Note: The "Pearson’s r" coefficient is a measure of how predictive one item is of another based on bivariate corellational testing. These figures are preliminary, as there are only 15 corresponding years of data regarding illicit drug use and quantification of budget dollars allocated to the antidrug effort.)

If we streamline our domestic drug-control spending, we can afford to redirect our funds toward source-country supply reduction efforts for a more balanced antidrug program. There is plenty of opportunity to do so.

The Colombian National Police (CNP) are true heroes in the fight against illicit drugs. They face up to 100 casualties per month sacrificing flesh and blood battling the narco-guerrillas. Their valiant efforts have caused the price of raw coca leaf to double within the past year. However, the Administration decertified Colombia on March 1st. This at a time when a small amount of aid (military excess 1960s era UH-1H "Huey" helicopters, for instance) would allow the CNP to cut in half the flow of dangerous narcotics before we are forced to deal with their consequences at home.

Crackdowns in Mexico’s National Institute to Combat Drugs, their equivalent to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, are forcing some smugglers to re-route their supplies through the Caribbean. As reported in The New York Times, however, nine Caribbean nations have agreed to open their waters to US pursuit of narco-traffickers.

The task of interdicting these criminals is increasingly difficult as traffickers take more risks and find new ways to defeat our technology. For instance, some elements of the Peruvian Navy are using official Naval vessels, consigned to carry commercial cargo, to transport cocaine. These Naval ships rarely even have to stop for customs inspections.

President Clinton shifted the Drug War from its prior placement on the White House list of national security priorities from number 3 to number 29––on a list of 29. He cut the ONDCP staff from 146 to 25 overnight. During his re-nomination speech for the presidency, the President requested Congress to approve 100% of his requested budget for the fight against drugs. This is worthy of praise, but it is only a half-step, for his budget is lopsided and misguided in its focus on ineffectual domestic efforts. In fact, the Administration’s shift to emphasis on treatment of chronic, hard-core addicts has allowed the number of casual and juvenile users to greatly increase by failing to provide them with an antidrug message. It is plainly in our national interest to keep this poison from even reaching our borders.

Source: Monitoring the Future Study (University of Michigan)

Hence our task should be clear. Stop drugs at the source before we have to spend another $15 billion on domestic interdiction, law enforcement, and treatment programs. Let us take advantage of the new opportunities to operate in source countries––via aid and advisement, and a new authority in territorial waters.