Thursday, October 08, 2009

Time to count and compare the costs of legal and illegal drugs

A new report published by the Scottish Government this week called 'Assessing the Scale and Impact of Illicit Drug Markets in Scotland' estimated that 'the total economic and social cost of illicit drug use in Scotland is estimated at just under £3.5bn.'

The authors noted that 96% of these costs are accrued by problematic drug use. This doesn't come as much of a surprise to Transform.

What is interesting about the report is that it recognises, for the first time, that the models used to estimate the costs of illicit drugs could, and should, be extended to legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. The report lays out how such costs could be calculated and identifies the areas where alcohol and tobacco use costs are accumulated.

The authors note that,

'For alcohol, the five areas of health, criminal justice, social care, economic and wider social costs will also incur a cost as a result of alcohol use/misuse. Examining each cost area individually, many of the costs relating to recreational drug use could be estimated for alcohol use/misuse....

'A model for the social and economic costs for tobacco costs would include three of the five cost areas discussed above for alcohol use/misuse, namely health costs, economic costs and wider social costs. The biggest driving force throughout the model will be the health impact of smoking.'

Carrying out this research and then comparing it to the social and economic costs of illicit drug use would be a useful tool in disaggregating drug harms from drug policy harms - something Transform has long been calling for. It would also be an important step towards an impact assessment of prohibition versus legal regulation.

Problematic use of legal and illegal drugs - which creates the bulk of these economic and social costs - is caused overwhelmingly by poverty, deprivation and lack of wellbeing. David Liddell emphasises this point in today's Scottish Sun newspaper.
'The stark reality is there is no quick fix. The roots [of problematic drug use] lie overwhelmingly in poverty - and we are now seeing these problems running from generation to generation. It is little wonder there are strong links between being poor, drugs dependence and crime. Desperate people take desperate measures - they have very little to lose. We must think hard about how we breathe life into those ravaged communities.'


Anonymous said...

it is people who are controlled Transform, not drugs. when will you stop talking about illegal drugs? there are human activities concerning controlled drugs which are illegal according to the govt.

Anonymous said...


'Illegal according to the govt' is, unfortunately, what illegal means.

Transform are clear about the abuse of the term 'control' in this context: prohibition is not 'drug control', it is the opposite.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 2 - but you missed my point, drugs are not 'illegal' according to anyone who understands the concept - it is a very sloppy way of saying that people are subject to controls which prohibit or restrict various activitoes with respect to so-called controlled drugs. Its a vital distinction, it is about the unequal treament of people, not drugs. And just because teh govt says it must be this way or that way don't necessarily make it so - the govt must obey the law as well which means that their decisions must be within the objects and purposes of the primary legislation and according to the principles of legality, fairness, proportionality etc

the prof speaks sh*te said...

I support the sentiment behind this idea of a comparative study but I have serious reservations about this type of 'economic assessment'. In my experience, they are wildly inaccurate, pseudo-scientific exercises which amount to not much more than (slightly) informed guesswork. I would steer well clear if were you.

Anonymous said...

Lets get it right - firstly illegal is the wrong word because whatever the govt say, it is not drugs which are illegal, it is the activities people might engage in which are controlled, and thus illegal. THis is a vital distinction and despite months of pointing these technical issues out, the opportunity to change the paradigm with the facts is thrown away. Secondly, just becasue the govt say something don't necessarily make it so legally, their conduct has to follow legal principles and fall within ghe boundaries of the legislation they are working with. Given the purpose of the legislation is to protect society against harmful drugs, and drugs, and this must be done rationally and fairly - then it is obvious that many of the decisions to schedule drugs as prohibited in terms of the fact that all meaningful use is denied, and that this runs alongside the failure to schedule harmful drugs at all - this signifies mismanagement which is open to challenge. Come on Transform, you know it makes sense.

Cacao. said...

The distinction between "criminalising" the drug, or "criminalising" the use of the drug, "on certain occasions" might be quite a sentinent point to make.

In the case of class "A"s....

When held or marketed by the licenced producers, and used under doctors` prescription, then the establishment is content.
Whenever any unlicensed producer or seller enters the marketplace, then the UK legal machine moves in at high speed.

Even the end-users in the "black" market are targeted, thus sending out the signal, that drugs are only to be obtained through official channels..... and at very official prices.

In law, the normal criminal charge is "to be in possesion of controlled substances" ...not illegal ones, but "controlled", which without doubt, is probably a catchall for protecting the marketing of their wares, .... it could be said that defendants in drug cases be charged with "having evaded government taxes, and challenged the monopoly of the approved suppliers.."

Two sides to the discussion, and no doubt it will be some time before the issue is resolved... "Commerce", as some say, "is war".

the prof speaks sh*te said...


No, I think you're getting confused here. The Misuse of Drugs Act regulates the circulation of specified commodities within a market economy. This circulation of course takes place through human agents (buying, selling, exchanging, possessing) but it is nevertheless the commodities which are regulated. What Transform should be thinking about is how to construct better regulatory systems. By the way, your idea about a legal challenge is fanciful nonsense.

Anonymous said...

prof shite: you have just turned it upside down again and missed the point that it is humans who are controlled in respect of activities with drugs, not drugs which are controlled with respect their use by humans- I supposed these drugs will be sent to jail if they allow themselves to be misused? Why dismiss holding the govt to account as fanciful nonsense? The High Ct just orderred that the govt release secret files on torture - remember that the rule of law is controlled by the courts, if the govt misuse the law as enacted by parliament, then they must be held to account.