different types of users; the dynamics associated with the apparent failure of policy interventions to delay or inhibit the onset of illegal drug use for a large proportion of the population; and the effects of enforcement on demand reduction.
Drawing on commissioned papers and presentations and discussions at a public workshop that it will plan and hold, the committee will prepare a report on the nature and operations of the illegal drug market in the United States and the research issues identified as having potential for informing policies to reduce the demand for illegal drugs.
This charge was extremely broad. It could have included literature reviews on such topics as characteristics of substance users, etiology of initiation of use, etiology of dependence, drug use prevention programs, and drug treatments. Two considerations led to narrowing the focus of our work. The first was substantive. Each of the topics just noted involves very large fields of well-developed research, and each has been reviewed elsewhere. Moreover, each of those areas of inquiry is currently expanding as a result of new research initiatives (such as the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions and the Community Epidemiology Work Group of the National Institute on Drug Abuse) and new technologies (e.g., neuroimaging, genetics). The second consideration was practical: given the available resources, we could not undertake a complete review of the entire field.
Thus, this report focuses tightly on demand models in the field of economics and on evaluating the data needs for advancing this relatively undeveloped area of investigation. Although this area has a relatively shorter history of accumulated findings than the more clinical, biological, and epidemiological areas of drug research, it is arguably better situated to inform government policy at the national level. A report on economic models and supporting data seemed to us more timely than a report on drug consumers and drug interventions.
The committee drew on economic models and their supporting data, as well as related research, as one part of the evidentiary base for this report. In addition, the committee’s workshop provided the context for and contributed to the content of this report.
The committee was not able to fully address task 2 in our statement of work because research in that area is not strong enough to give an accurate description of consumers across different markets nor to address the question of why markets remain robust despite the risks associated with buying and selling drugs. The discussion at the workshop underscored the point that the available ethnographic research and the limited longitudinal research on drug-seeking behavior are not strong enough to inform those questions.