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The U.S. spends two-thirds of its drug budget on interdiction and law enforcement and one-third on treatment and prevention. Is this the appropriate ratio?


Paul McNulty, J.D.

The premise of treating drug prevention and drug interdiction as separate and comparable options is inherently flawed. Since too many of our fellow citizens will be tempted to abuse their bodies with illegal drugs, the best way to prevent drug use is to stop the flow of this poison to our streets. Yet if a distinction is to be made it is necessary to understand what sources fund prevention and interdiction and what role the federal government is best suited to handle. While a top priority of the federal government's drug prevention efforts is on its unique responsibility to restrict the amount of drugs entering the country, billions of federal tax dollars are also used to reduce the demand for drugs by funding treatment and rehabilitation programs, education, and other prevention activities.

When analyzing federal expenditures to reduce drug use it is important to note that thousands of national, state, local, and private organizations assist in reducing drug use in our communities. Also, demand reduction efforts are often connected with money spent by police and educational programs. However, the federal government alone battles the massive influx of illegal drugs into the United States. As the sole player in America's interdiction efforts, the federal government is responsible for trying to stop illegal drugs from entering the United States through its numerous miles of coastline and borders. According to Admiral Robert Kramek, the interdiction coordinator for the United States, during Fiscal Year 97 the United States Coast Guard intercepted 104,000 pounds of drugs, triple the amount seized the previous year. Those efforts, unlike many education/prevention programs, produced a quantifiable result, namely not allowing 500 million hits of illegal drugs to find their way into our communities.

It is important for the federal government to maintain leadership roles in both aspects of prevention, but it must remain focused on interdiction because that is the mission for which it is best suited and solely responsible.

We have to remember that every American is affected by illegal drugs and has an interest in stopping their increasing hold on American society. The question of what role the federal government should play primarily in drug prevention can be best answered by defining what area it is most effective in, best suited for and where it is needed most. That role is clearly interdiction and supply reduction on foreign soil.


Paul McNulty, J.D., is Chief Counsel of the Subcommittee on Crime of the United States House of Representatives.

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Paul N. Samuels, J.D., and Jenny Collier McColl, J.D.

Last year, drug use among youth remained at the highest level in ten years.  Expanding alcohol and drug treatment and prevention services, as well as research, is essential to reducing youth drug use, successfully reforming the welfare system and decreasing crime.  Yet funding for these cost-efficient and life-saving services remains unconscionably low.

Many schools and communities still do not have drug and alcohol prevention services that research studies have shown to be effective.  And at most 50% of the individuals who need treatment receive it.  Waiting lists in some regions are six months long.  If people suffering from or at risk for other life threatening illnesses could not obtain necessary services, there would -- and should -- be a hue and cry across the land.  Lack of treatment and prevention for drug and alcohol problems should engender that same outrage.

Treatment for young people is especially difficult to obtain, since most treatment models are designed and funded to treat adults. 

In fact, the need for more drug and alcohol treatment and prevention services is growing every day.  Criminal justice officials across the country are wisely paying attention to research studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of treatment and prevention in reducing crime and its associated costs.  The 1997 National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Study (NTIES) found staggering reductions in crime: drug sales decreased by 78.2%, physical beatings by 77.6% and shoplifting by 81.6%.  As a result, the proliferation of successful criminal justice programs involving (and often mandating) treatment, including drug courts, is steadily increasing the demand for treatment. 

So is welfare reform.  The new welfare law requires welfare recipients to obtain employment within certain time periods.  Studies have shown that at least 16-20% of welfare recipients have alcohol and drug problems, most of whom will need treatment before they are able to work.  This could translate into adding 400,000 to 800,000 welfare recipients to an already overwhelmed treatment system.  And these welfare recipients have children who are themselves at risk for drug and alcohol problems, and hence could benefit from targeted prevention services.

Expanding treatment and prevention will reduce drug use, welfare dependence, crime and associated health and social costs.  The United States should rectify the current imbalance in funding by adding at least $2 billion to expand proven treatment and prevention services and research.


Paul N. Samuels, J.D., is Director/President of the Legal Action Center, a not-for-profit public interest law firm with offices in New York City and Washington, D.C. Jenny Collier McColl, J.D., serves as Legislative Counsel for the Legal Action Center, which specializes in legal and policy issues involving alcohol and drug abuse, AIDS and criminal justice.

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