Demand Reduction and Supply Reduction: A Winning Policy Combination
Demand reduction efforts reduce the demand for illegal drugs using prevention, treatment, and research. Supply reduction makes drugs scarcer, more expensive, and less socially tolerated.
For the past 40 years, US drug policy has been a balance of supply reduction (law enforcement) and demand reduction (treatment, prevention and research). The outspoken opponents of this strong combination call for the removal of the law enforcement side of this strategy, claiming that the nation's policy choice is either law enforcement or treatment. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is the combination of both demand reduction and supply reduction that brings success. Many people who receive treatment for substance use disorders in the US today do so because law enforcement requires them to be in treatment. Cutting out the strong arm of the law would, in one blow, significantly reduce the number of individuals in treatment. What is needed for the future is not a choice between law enforcement or treatment, but rather new polices that unite law enforcement and treatment to work together more effectively over long periods of time.
Supply reduction is an effective tool for demand reduction because when drugs cost more and are more difficult to obtain there are fewer drug users and less demand for illegal drugs. Demand reduction is also an effective tool in supply reduction because when the number of drug users falls, drug supply falls correspondingly as the market for illegal drugs shrinks. Linking these complementary approaches maximizes the impact of the national strategy on illegal drug use by attacking the drug economy from both sides.
While this one-two punch has worked well in the past, the best hope for future reductions in drug use lies in improved and more cost-effective demand reduction. If the demand for illegal drugs remains high, then the money spent by would-be drug users would sustain a large supply of illegal drugs no matter how effective the supply reduction becomes. The search for what can be called real demand reduction is the heart of tomorrow's drug prevention policy. The criminal justice system can be harnessed to become a major engine of recovery. That is the future of an improved drug policy, not the elimination of the criminal justice system from drug policy.
A common refrain in drug policy debates today is that the nation “cannot arrest its way out of the drug abuse epidemic.” That is true. In fact, the recognition of that truth led to first massive investment in treatment, prevention and research in the early 1970s in the United States under President Richard Nixon. What is seldom heard is a parallel statement, “we cannot treat ourselves out of the drug abuse epidemic.” While seldom articulated, this statement is equally true because of high costs and because of the glaring fact that treatment alone seldom leads to sustained recovery.
IBH has a clear position on this debate: It is essential to use both law enforcement and treatment to achieve goals neither can achieve alone. It is also painfully clear that both law enforcement and treatment need to become smarter and more effective including using less incarceration and focusing on using the leverage of the criminal justice system in parole and probation to improve treatment outcomes while also reducing the commission of new crimes and incarceration.
The Parents' Movement
The significant fall in illegal drug use in the US between 1979 and 1992 can be traced to many factors. One key factor was the impact of a national coalition started in the 1970s known as the Parents' Movement. During the 1980s Nancy Regan embraced the message of the Parents' Movement with her "Just Say No" campaign. During the Administration of President George H.W. Bush, this anti-drug leadership was strongly supported. While this effective effort to de-normalize illegal drug use has often been seen as politically partisan, it was never a partisan movement. The manifesto of the Parents' Movement was written by Marsha Manatt, the sister of the then-National Chairman of the Democratic Party. The Parents' Movement received White House support when President Jimmy Carter's second Drug Czar, Lee Dogoloff, took up the cause. General Barry McCaffrey, President Bill Clinton's White House Drug Czar, also was a strong supporter of the Parents' Movement, as well as were many other Democrats including Joseph Biden.
IBH encourages today's parents to look back and learn from the success of the Parents' Movement that was so effective in the 1970s and 1980s. Reinvigorating the Parents' Movement for the twenty-first century would provide organization, energy and education that is essential to success against drug abuse.
The Parents’ Movement suffered neglect after 1992, leaving a marked void in leadership for drug abuse prevention. Without the organized efforts of committed parents, illegal drug use rates again rose sharply. Once mocked by some experts and officials, the Parents' Movement remains an inspiring testimony to the power of a relatively small, focused and dedicated group of people. Their experience demonstrates that "ordinary" parents are an extraordinary resource in preventing and treating drug abuse. After 1992, there was a rapidly growing and lavishly funded effort to normalize drug use, especially but not only marijuana use and to remove the role of the criminal justice system in the balanced national drug control strategy. The leading edge of this movement was “medical” marijuana but beginning in 2012 it has become the outright legalization of marijuana for anyone aged 21 and older.