Costs and Unintended consequences of drug control policies

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Estimation or full costing of drug-related public investment including both direct expenditure and also indirect costs and impact on public resources should therefore be a key objective of any evaluation.

Report by the expert group on possible adverse effects and associated costs of drug control policies.

Evaluation is an integral part of a good governance approach to public policy. This principle applies equally to the component of drug policy designed to counter the availability of and access to illicit drugs.

Estimation or full costing of drug-related public investment – including both direct expenditure and also indirect costs and impact on public resources – should therefore be a key objective of any evaluation. To evaluate and improve drug policy, it is imperative to know and take note of all possible effects of different interventions and actions.

All policies, regardless of purpose or intention, come with a risk of unintended consequences. Public expenditure estimates can be used as a tool for assessing whether the expected or desired results of the policy in question are actually reflected in action, and they constitute a necessary tool for implementing thorough policy evaluations.

Public expenditure studies should mirror all relevant activities and policy approaches and may be particularly appropriate in times of austerity. Accurate estimates of public spending will help policymakers plan relevant interventions and allocate necessary funds to authorities in charge of specific aspects of the policy’s implementation.

A thorough assessment of drug policy expenditures will also contribute to improved transparency and accountability of public institutions. This publication brings together the findings of wider study conducted by the Pompidou Group in cooperation with the EMCDDA seeking to identify the unintended effects and associated costs of drug control policies.

The aim of this publication is threefold.

  • First, increase international awareness about the importance of estimating public expenditure on supply reduction initiatives.
  • Second, stress the importance of harmonizing definitions and increasing availability, comparability and reliability of data as well as methods for sound estimates.
  • Third, contribute to developing sound estimation practices to obtain accurate, complete and reliable drug policy evaluations.

Unintended consequences of drug control policies

  • Health effects from restricted availability of controlled medicines
  • Health effects due to drug prohibition
  • Health effects resulting from enforcement actions
  • Effects of high profit margins and price levels of illegal drugs
  • Effects resulting from stigmatization
  • Effects of criminal records and imprisonment for drug offences

Some excerpts:

To evaluate and improve drug policy, it is imperative to know and take note of all possible effects of different interventions and actions. All policies, regardless of purpose or intention, come with a risk of unintended consequences. (p. 5)

The increased criticism of drug control efforts is one contributing factor to the recent changes introduced in drug regulations in many countries and jurisdictions. (…) The call for further humanisation and revision of drug control policies must be viewed in light of the increased focus on its adverse consequences. (p. 7)

To optimize resource allocation to drug policy field, one should ideally conduct a full cost-benefit analysis. (…)This type of analysis can also compare alternative policy options and evaluate the effectiveness of separate parts of a comprehensive policy. (…) Unfortunately, a regular cost-benefit analysis is currently not attainable as the quantification of both benefits and costs of drug control policies are underdeveloped. (p. 8)

Punishment aims both to penalize the individual and deter others from committing a similar crime. (…) It is, however, not meant to generate stigmatization, reduce job opportunities or access to health care services. Likewise, a fine is meant to reduce the offender’s financial resources, not to limit his or her educational opportunities, labour market outcomes or travel possibilities, which may be the case if the fine is accompanied by a criminal record. (p.23)

One might assume that the bearers of both the intended and the unintended consequences are the drug market participants only, but this is not the case. The unintended consequences affect, to a large extent, other people, such as relatives of drug offenders, patients in need of pain relief and palliative care, and society in general. (p.23)

Other examples of consequences include the threat to society induced by the huge financial gains from illegal drug production and sale, leading to corruption, increased risk of armed conflicts and terror activities, economic instability, and more. (p. 23)

The implementation of the conventions in national legislation and policies are often much stricter than required by the conventions at the cost of patients in need, particularly patients in need of pain relief and palliative care and opioid dependent drug users seeking treatment. (p. 24)

One effects of current laws and enforcement practices are the formal and informal restrictions on research regarding the therapeutic value and efficacy of cannabis medicinal properties. Various bureaucratic, economic and cultural barriers in Europe and other developed countries hinder medical research on the drug. (p. 25)

The creation of a black market for illegal substances is one example of an unintended, although not unexpected, effect of the ban on drugs. This unlawfulness is likely to have consequences for the types, prices and qualities of the goods offered on the illegal market and may also cause stigmatization and negative social effects, all of which may lead to adverse effects on users’ health. (p. 27)

Enforcement against drug users is increasingly being debated as it is accused of violating essential principles of democratic societies, such as human rights. Drug prohibition itself is being questioned, and the recent legalization of cannabis supply and recreational use in some US states reflects this opposition. Further, how governments allocate their resources is always a topic of dispute, particularly in times of austerity. (p. 45)

Source  : COE, Pompidou Group, Costs and Unintended consequences of drug policy (2017)

About Pompidou Group

The Pompidou Group is the Council of Europe’s drug policy cooperation platform. It is an inter-governmental body established in 1971 at the initiative of the then French President Georges Pompidou. It upholds the core values of the Council of Europe – human rights, democracy and the rule of law – and promotes a balanced approach in the response to drug use and illicit trafficking in drugs, supporting both demand and supply reduction. The Pompidou Group offers a forum for open debate, exchange of experiences and, as a platform for science and evidence-based innovation, it links policy, research and practice. At present the Group is made up of 39 Member States, and its technical cooperation also involves other countries all over the world, in particular around the Mediterranean.

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