Apparent declines in the illegal drug problem in the U.S. probably are “the natural working out of old epidemics rather than the result of tough enforcement,” University of Maryland criminologist Peter Reuter told a Senate hearing last week. Reuter said cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine “continue to cause great harm to the nation, particularly to vulnerable minority communities in the major cities.” The U.S. has a larger drug problem than any other western nation, whether measured in terms of the prevalence of problematic drug use or the adverse consequences of drugs, including crime and disease (particularly HIV), Reuter said.
Speaking at a hearing convened by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), Reuter criticized “weak monitoring of the nation's drug problems” as well as “minimal evaluation of the enforcement programs that dominate expenditures.” Reuter cited the failure of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to estimate the scale of the nation's drug problem. In the 1990s, the office issued studies on what America's users spend on illicit drugs. The 2005 National Drug Control Strategy referred to an updated report, probably taking the estimates through 2003. That report never was published, nor has any other updating appeared. The agency has refused to publish the completed 2005 report, yet Congress has never publicly questioned the agency on the issue, Reuter said.