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Not So Fast -- Funny Numbers in the Same Old 2008 US National Drug Strategy Report

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #526)
Consequences of Prohibition
Politics & Advocacy

President Bush and Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) head John Walters rolled out the 2008 US National Drug Control Strategy over the weekend. While the administration used the strategy to defend its policies and make some claims of victories in the war on drugs, critics called the strategy misguided, dishonest, and an exercise in propaganda.

George Bush with drug czar Walters, December 2007
"Today, my administration is releasing our 2008 National Drug Control Strategy," President Bush said in his weekly Saturday radio address. "This report lays out the methods we are using to combat drug abuse in America. And it highlights the hopeful progress we're making in the fight against addiction. Overall, an estimated 860,000 fewer young people in America are using drugs today than when we began these efforts."

The administration drug strategy has three key elements, Bush said: disrupting supplies, reducing demand, and providing treatment. "Our drug control strategy will continue all three elements of this successful approach," he said. "It will also target a growing problem -- the abuse of prescription drugs by youth."

The administration's drug strategy is working, claimed Bush and ONDCP, citing declines in youth marijuana, methamphetamine, and Ecstasy use. The strategy also pointed to short-term declines in cocaine and methamphetamine purity and availability, but acknowledged an increase in the misuse of prescription drugs.

"Teen drug abuse is down sharply, and this will provide lasting benefits to our nation, since we know that most adults who get caught in addiction begin with use as teens," said Walters. "But there are still too many of our friends, our family members, our coworkers and our neighbors who are becoming lost in the maze of addiction. We need to find whatever ways we can to create a turning point in their lives -- a turning point that leads to recovery."

"Prescription drugs provide tremendous benefits to our nation," said Walters, "but when misused or abused they can lead to addiction, and worse. We are working with leaders in Congress to modernize our laws to address the problem of 'rogue online pharmacies' which skirt around the safeguards of legitimate medical practice and prescriptions. Prescription drug abuse is an area of serious concern, and we are now focusing our nation's supply, demand, and prevention policies with the goal of seeing the same reductions that we have achieved for illegal 'street' drugs."

But despite new emphases like that on prescription drugs, the 2008 strategy is largely more of the same old drug policies. It touts programs like the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, random drug testing of students and workers, drug courts, and continued interdiction, eradication, and domestic law enforcement.

And critics call even its claims of success into question. "This isn't a strategy, it's a grab bag," said Doug McVay, research analyst for Common Sense for Drug Policy. "Anything they can spin as positive, they do. All in all, it's mainly a cute little propaganda piece. And what it obscures is the sad fact that they have gone back to that same old two-to-one spending ratio that favors law enforcement over prevention and treatment."

In an analysis by Appalachian State University criminal justice professor Matthew Robinson, coauthor of "Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy," Robinson dissects the strategy and finds it wanting on many grounds.

Although teen marijuana and other illicit drug is indeed down during the Bush administration, prescription drug abuse is up, as the strategy acknowledges. That makes it difficult for the administration to honestly claim that teen drug use is down, Robinson suggested.

"Since this is the same time during which youth use of various drugs fell, is it possible youth began using more non-medical pain relievers as a form of drug substitution? ONDCP provides no evidence to assess this possibility," Robinson noted. "In the 2008 Strategy, ONDCP still does not consider the possibility that young drug users have not really stopped using illicit drugs like LSD, Ecstasy or meth, but instead have merely switched to more readily available prescription drugs. If true, this would suggest drug replacement rather than successful prevention."

Similarly, ONDCP's claim that drug use is down is the result of cherry-picking statistics, Robinson argued. While claiming success in reducing overall drug use, ONDCP only provides numbers on teen drug use -- not adult drug use.

"It is dishonest of ONDCP to claim success in meeting its goals of reducing drug use by 10% and 25% over two and five years, respectively, when ONDCP is only assessing drug use trends for young people and not adults," Robinson pointed out. "How can we know if ONDCP's efforts work when we are only shown data on youth drug trends and not adult drug trends?"

"ONDCP likes to play goofy with the math," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML. "NORML has been looking at these things for 30 years now, and they never achieve their stated goals. These guys have a $23 billion a year budget. If they were in corporate America, they would have been fired for incompetence."

The strategy's claim that it is balancing treatment, prevention, and law enforcement is also belied by the hard numbers, Robinson wrote. Despite budgetary sleight of hand beginning in 2003 that makes the proportion of drug war spending devoted to treatment and prevention appear larger than it really is, the treatment and prevention share of the budget continues to decline, with law enforcement -- the drug war -- garnering 65.2% of the overall budget next year, up from 56% in 2003.

"Unfortunately for ONDCP and our nation, research shows that the most effective and cost-effective drug reduction approaches are demand side approaches such as prevention and treatment," Robinson noted, adding that research has shown both treatment and prevention provide more bang for the buck than spending on law enforcement. "Most of the money in ONDCP's FY 2009 drug war budget is truly intended for 'fighting' the drug war, not for those efforts that are more cost-effective and efficacious -- preventing drug use and drug abuse and for healing drug abusers through treatment."

For NORML's St. Pierre, the strategy's section on medical marijuana was especially offensive. Titled "The Medical Marijuana Movement: Manipulation Not Medicine," the boxed section had little to do with policy but much to do with politics. It attacked medical marijuana, suggesting that each California patient was receiving 41 joints a day, and cited San Diego police complaining about nuisances around dispensaries.

"The section in there about medical marijuana is utterly gratuitous," said St. Pierre. "It doesn't have anything to do with the drug strategy; it is essentially just bullet talking points. And it is just downright silly. They try to say there are only 13,000 medical marijuana patients in California when we know the real number is probably ten times that. There are almost 19,000 patients in Oregon. It is utterly disingenuous of ONDCP to base its California numbers on a patient registry there, when there is no statewide registry."

ONDCP might have talked to other police departments in California that are not hostile to medical marijuana, unlike the San Diego police, who cooperated with federal agents to raid dispensaries there, said St. Pierre. "Did they talk to police in San Francisco or Los Angeles or even Modesto?" he asked. "Again, it looks like they are cherry-picking."

The drug strategy is 79 pages packed with figures, charts, and assertions. This article has only skimmed the surface of the claims and counterclaims around it. Readers who want to dig deeper are invited to read both the strategy and Robinson's analysis for more detail.

In the meantime, Robinson donned his professor's cap and tried to come up with a letter grade for the drug czar's effort. "I might give them a D for effort because the report is well-documented and has lots of pretty graphs in it," said Robinson, "but overall, it's just dishonest, so I would have to give them an F," he concluded.

To earn a passing grade, the drug strategy would have to be revamped, Robinson said. "It would need to clearly state the goals and budget of the drug war, and then it would report data on each of the goals, all the relevant data on drug use trends for every drug and age group, and data on availability, price, and purity for drug seizures. It would also present information on the cost of the drug war, including law enforcement and incarceration costs; deaths and illnesses associated with drugs, and data on crime and violence. It would have to be much more comprehensive, with all available data reported and long-term trend analyses," Robinson said.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

The reason they are getting of marijuana and coke etc... is that the price has been driven so high that they can not afford it.

Prescription drugs are usually available free from the medicine cabinet or stolen from the pharmacy, so it is a basic economic prinicpal of subsitute goods when economics requires it. Bad economy, no jobs, they need cheapers sources of drugs, it is that simple.

No good two shoes drug war is making any impact at all.

The bad part is they act like they understand drug use and economics, but they dont.

Fri, 03/07/2008 - 5:55pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

They were just as truthful about weapons of mas destruction in Iraq as they are in the drug war. These people will lie through their teeth to keep the money flowing in a war that has been lost. What a sad county this is becoming.

Sat, 03/08/2008 - 12:27am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

It's interesting to see how Walters and Bush have framed the drug war debate. If drug use is up (as it is with regard to prescriptions), we must get tough. If drug use is down (as it is with marijuana), our tough methods must be working; therefore, we should continue them. Doesn't anybody in Congress realize what a fraud the drug war is? Incidentally, have worked for DEA for the past 9 years. I try to share this opinion with everyone, but it seems that no one is listening. The drug war isn't about keeping kids off drugs, it's about establishing a paradigm of government control of individual life decisions. Just look at how many of your young men are in jail!

Sat, 03/08/2008 - 3:42am Permalink
jackl (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

-Upton Sinclair

Thanks for trying to edumacate some of your fellow DEA co-workers and thanks for reading and posting to reform blogs like this.

Mon, 03/10/2008 - 10:01am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Spin is always used to achieve an agenda.

With the majority of Americans not favoring legalization, at least in part because prohibitionists have convinced them that drug use and drug abuse are equal (just look at how use and abuse are interchanged in the government quotes above -- noting that misused and abused are synonymous, Mr. Walters), and those same Americans not seeing how the Controlled Substances Act adversely effects their lives, both of these "nots" due to a heavily-biased mainstream media, the prohibitionist spin works like a charm (always has, always will without positive change).

To effectively counter that spin, we must send in a respectable messenger with the right message to deliver to the American majority. This should be the legalization movement's number one goal.

The right messenger is someone (or more than one) who is seen as an accomplished individual with integrity, an articulate individual that the American majority feels compelled to listen to, one who offsets the credibility of the many prohibitionist community leaders spreading the spin.

The right message is a combination of:

- Informing how the CSA negatively effects each individual on a personal level
- Spin opposition
- Informing that drug use and drug abuse are proven to be different (abusive behavior causing all drug-related harm), justifying legalizing drug use supported by abuse prevention/treatment
- Informing "We the people" how the CSA negatively effects today's top bipartisan issues (e.g. sky-rocketing corn prices endangering many segments of the economy, because hemp - a drug that isn't one - is illegal to use as the optimal substitute)
- Informing that while drug reduction at enormous cost has failed to notably dent the black market for illegal drugs, one swipe of a Congressional pen repealing the CSA would eliminate it instantly.
- The legalization movement exists to improve society
- The legalization movement is patriotic

To reach the American majority, we need a national public relations campaign. That's what public relations firms excel in. Top public relations firms have the media connections we need, and know what "buttons to push".

The legalization movement should find the financial resources to hire an excellent public relations firm, one not already working for the prohibitionists.

Sat, 03/08/2008 - 9:27am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

And Bush 1 begat Bush 2 and Walters 1 begat Walters 2. Bush 2 and Walters 2, would both ,still be living at home in the basement , were it not for they're sire's imput.

Sat, 03/08/2008 - 11:57am Permalink
mlang52 (not verified)

Not only do the kids, getting drug tested know THC can take months to clear. They also know that the Oxycontin will be gone in two days. It is a risk reduction behavior of the kids (while in real terms, massively, increasing their risk of overdose and death). These kids look smarter than the people that work at ONDCP, in many ways!

We can thank the people at ONDCP for the increased prescription abuse among the teens. And, a very likely, increase in the teen overdose rate! They are killing the kids and lying about the real statistics!

Sat, 03/08/2008 - 3:09pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

seems to me that if they're so successful with their strategy the ondcp should need less money each year not more, and the only nuisances outside the dispensaries are the random dea raids.

Sun, 03/09/2008 - 4:22pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

How much money would need to be raised in order to counter the ONDCP by means of television?

I mean, I've seen plenty of frying eggs and ugly business men eating dinner talking about how buying drugs funds terrorism... what would it take for us to get our own spotlight on TV via commercial portraying our side?

Mon, 03/10/2008 - 2:22am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

prison guard's union

California Correctional Peace Officers Association
The California Prison system is the third largest penal system in the country, costing $5.7 billion dollars a year and housing over 161,000 inmates. Since 1980 the number of California prisons has tripled and the number of inmates has jumped significantly. In the past few years controversies involving prison expansion, sky-rocketing costs, and claims of mismanagement and inmate abuse have put the California prison system under heightened public scrutiny.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) is the California prison guards' union. In recent years the CCPOA has become a major player in California politics. Its political influence has grown to the point that it is widely considered to be one of the most powerful political forces in Sacramento. Its lobbying efforts and campaign contributions have greatly facilitated the passage of legislation favorable to union members.


Attorney Gen. File #: 2007-064
California Cannabis Hemp & Health Initiative 2008

Legalization of Marijuana-Related Activities. The initiative provides that no per-son, individual, or corporate entity could be prosecuted for the possession, cultivation, transportation, distribution, or consumption of cannabis hemp, including hemp industrial products, hemp medicinal preparations, hemp nutritional products, and hemp religious or recreational products. All of these products use as an ingredient the hemp plant commonly referred to as cannabis or marijuana. This measure also provides that the manufacture, marketing, distribution, or sale between adults of equipment or accessories associated with the above products shall not be prohibited.

California Hemp Initiative Volunteers is looking for volunteer petition signature collectors

Results 1-10 of about 41,600 for vindictive santa clause

Mon, 03/10/2008 - 3:54am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I am twenty - one years old and am going to school to get my degree in Radiography to be an X-Ray Technician. I have a great life. I got married last year and am living a wonderful life with my husband. But, my life was not always full of promising careers and dreams on the verge of coming true. When I was fifteen I got seriously addicted to methamphetamine. Up until my fifteenth birthday, I was a great kid. I was very involved in dance classes, healthy, and had a sloo of great friends. When I started doing meth, all of that fell to pieces. Meth took control of my life, and all the lives of my family. I was 120 pounds of pure muscle when I started abusing the drug, and was 93 pounds of nothing but bones and skin when I REALIZED I had a serious drug addiction. I was severely malnourished and barely had enough energy to live. I started fainting everytime I moved and got to the point where I could barely take care of myself. My mother, step-father, and both my brothers all went to jail when the police finally busted my parents' meth lab at my stepfathers garage. To make a long story short, my stepfather is incarcerated, (facing 10 years in prision), and my mother serves two weekends a month over the course of four years from this terrible drug.

Meth is nothing to take lightly. It is a very real and serious thing that destroys peoples lives. To say that you would rather see your children do meth or marijuana rather than abusing prescription drugs is very ignorant and careless. I would rather NO ONE abuse anything. Lock up your prescription drugs, set a good example for your children by choosing not to abuse ANY type of drug, and get yourself informed about the facts of drugs and talk to them about the serious risks and repercussions that come about from doing drugs.

I was there, I was an addict and there is nothing good about it. To be honest, I have a lot of great things going for me because I made the conscious decision to WALK AWAY from that life and make something better of myself. But it is a battle that is still very real to me: one that will forever linger in my mind and tempt me to do the wrong thing. I make that decision everyday to live the better life. I have to see, everyday, what it has done to my family. It still hurts, and I am very scarred.

Please get informed about drugs. And not just methamphetamine - ALL drugs. Talk to your children. Take this seriously. It has destroyed too many peoples lives, and has TAKEN too many peoples lives!

Mon, 04/14/2008 - 11:49pm Permalink

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