White House drug czar told the Washington Post this month that a shortage of cocaine in the U.S. is “unprecedented,” calling it “the deepest shortage [and] longest we have seen.” The Post notes that Walters touted similar disruptions to the cocaine market in 2005, but the progress turned out to be short-lived. Is there any reason we should believe him this time?, the Post asks. Despite repeated requests, his office refused to provide historical data to support the claim about the “unprecedented” nature of the price increase.
On its Web site, the Post reproduces the chart used by Walters to trumpet his “unprecedented” claim. Neither Walters nor the Drug Enforcement Administration publishes cocaine price data on a regular basis, so historical comparisons are almost impossible. A 2004 study by the RAND Corporation showed a steady decline in the price of cocaine to the American consumer over more than two decades, interrupted by occasional spikes. There is much skepticism about the drug czar’s data in Congress, among both Democrats and Republicans. The co-chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), noted that the Justice Department has reported that “cocaine availability could return to normal levels in late 2007 and early 2008,” an assessment that appears to undermine the upbeat claims of the drug czar.