Vice Squad
Sunday, October 19, 2003
Spending on Illegal Drugs

My primo research assistant, Ryan Monarch, has uncovered a good deal of vice policy material for me in the last few months. The unacknowledged fruits of some of his efforts have appeared in Vice Squad in the past, including some data on drug prices from a December, 2001 report (PDF version here) prepared for the US Office of National Drug Control Policy. The report comes out every two years, so we can expect an update within a few months.

Ryan has kindly provided Vice Squad with his summary of that publication, which I have edited, excerpted, and supplemented below:

What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs 1988-2000 estimates consumption and spending on cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, marijuana, and various other drugs. The report is careful to make a distinction between chronic and casual drug users. Chronic users account for only about three-fourths of all illicit cocaine and heroin consumed in the US. The estimates for 2000 place the number of chronic cocaine users at 2,707,000, occasional cocaine users at 3,035,000, chronic heroin users at 898,000 and occasional heroin users at 253,000.

The researchers estimate that about $212 was spent weekly by individual chronic cocaine users and $201 by chronic heroin users in the year 2000. The total amount spent on cocaine has decreased from 1997 while heroin totals have decreased slowly over the past decade. Using the estimated retail price per gram of heroin and cocaine, the researchers put the consumption level of cocaine for the year 2000 at 259 metric tons and heroin at 13.3 metric tons. These are significant falls from some earlier years. Total cocaine consumption, according to these estimates, has fallen by some 60% between 1988 and 2000, though most of the decline was recorded by 1991. Heroin consumption has been much more steady, though the 2000 figure is some 20% below the anomalously high year of 1989.

There was about $63.7 billion spent on illicit drugs in the year 2000; in 1988, about 2.5 times as much was spent (in real terms).

The following bullet points are taken directly from pages 1 and 2 of the report:

• In 1999, about 2.8 million Americans were chronic cocaine users, and about 900,000 were chronic heroin users. The number of chronic cocaine users has declined over the last decade (the figure was 3.6 million in 1990). The number of chronic heroin users had decreased, perhaps due to the AIDS epidemic and increased incarceration, but that decrease had largely abated by the latter part of the decade, perhaps because new users were attracted by the availability of high-quality low-cost heroin.

• About 3.2 million Americans were occasional cocaine users, and about 250,000 were occasional heroin users. The number of occasional cocaine users dropped from 6.0 million in 1988, and the number of occasional heroin users increased from 170,000 in 1988.

• More Americans use marijuana than either cocaine or heroin. In 1999, about 12 million Americans had used marijuana at least once in the month prior to being surveyed. The number of marijuana users has remained fairly constant over time, with some dip in use during the middle 1990s when prices were relatively high.

• Methamphetamine abuse is now recognized as a major problem, but estimates of the size of the problem are imprecise. Perhaps 600,000 Americans are chronic methamphetamine users. Consistent with other sources, we find increases in the number of methamphetamine users over the last decade.

• Many Americans use illicit drugs other than cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana, or they may use licit drugs illegally. About 12 million Americans admitted using these other drugs in 1999. These numbers include some overlap of polydrug users.

• In 2000, Americans spent about $36 billion on cocaine, $10 billion on heroin, $5.4 billion on methamphetamine, $11 billion on marijuana, and $2.4 billion on other substances […]

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