According to my guesstimates we the people are sending our tax dollars to local, state and the federal governments to pay for drug related law enforcement at the rate of nearly a trillion dollars each decade. Various official and unofficial calculations are skimpy and tend to mix up categories so it is really hard to figure out exactly how much all the arrests, court processing, jailing, probation supervision, plus raids and interdictions and prosecutions of international traffickers could be saved by ending it–especially when you include, as I do, law enforcement costs related to crimes committed by addicts to pay for their drugs. So far as I can tell after a lot of looking, there is no discrete workup on the total. So I am using some educated guesses and make no claim for perfect accuracy. Someone might say a correct estimate is closer to half a trillion every ten years. Okay, I say, and what’s your point?
Few if any of us can grasp the hugeness even of a paltry billion dollars, let alone a trillion, which for you math teachers out there is a thousand billion. No one is any closer to getting their arms around half a trillion than a whole one: its just too much money for the brain of all of us to grasp, except, oh, say, I’m guessing, maybe about three.
But, now, if we as a nation were all to agree that this colossal expense gets us somewhere, maybe we could say okay to it. But, it doesn’t. It’s strange. There’s something about drug use and addiction that makes us think we need to spend all that money on preventing people from using drugs.
But, does anybody ever ask how much drug use results in addiction, or how that stacks up with other things we want to avoid? Government data tell us that 24.6 million people use illicit drugs in this country. That’s up about 2 million from only two years ago, but then the country is growing.
The annual survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) states less than a third of those users are drug addicted–7.1 million. Of our total population of 320 million souls then only two point two (2.2%) percent are hooked on drugs. If we ask, how does that number compare with other serious disorders that result from what people do to themselves we might think of diabetes.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the overweight and obesity problem in the U.S. affects more than two-thirds of adults–164 million of us are on the tubby side.(Full disclosure: I am a member of that “love to eat” group.) About half of these are obese and 30% of obese people have type II diabetes because of it. The math works out to 25 million people with Type II. About 8% of America.
So let’s see. We have 7 million drug addicts, 2.2% of us and we’re spending many billions each year on prohibition costs. We have 25 million diabetics due to eating disorders, 8% of us, and to curb that deadly disease we’re spending about…nothing. Health care spending on trying to prevent and treat diabetes may not be exactly nothing, but by comparison with the feckless war on drugs it’s close to it.
Why not transfer those enormous resources spent on the drug war to better purposes, such as finding a cure for diabetes. I’m betting there are some other pretty good ways to use that money too. We certainly could make it available under the TCC system I propose in Kill the Drug Trade and even curb drug addiction in a way the war on drugs never has and never will.
© All rights reserved to Dave Finch January 17, 2016
For more information check in on my Reform Drug Policy Project and the TCC Solution.