The DEA Turns 35 This Week!

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The Drug
Enforcement Administration
was created by President Richard
Nixon through an Executive Order [on] July [1,] 1973 in order to
establish a single unified command to combat "an all-out global
war on the drug menace." At its outset, the DEA had 1,470 Special
Agents and a budget of less than $75 million. Furthermore, in 1974,
the DEA had 43 foreign offices in 31 countries. Today, the DEA has
5,235 Special Agents, a budget of more than $2.3 billion and 86
foreign offices in 62 countries.

So
the DEA turns thirty-five this week. That deserves a special
celebration.  Let's bust out our handy-dandy calculator and
the official government stats.  Time to play Rate the DEA!

Today the DEA
has twice the offices in twice the countries with four times the
manpower than when it started thirty-five years ago.  In 1973,
the DEA had $0.075 billion to work with; today you have $2.3 billion. 
That's an increase of 3,067%, or a dramatic thirty-fold increase. 
Just what have the American People received for this $31.4
billion dollar, thirty-five year investment
?

Are
there dramatically fewer drugs now? That's hard to say,
since nobody is out there taking official inventories of illegal
drugs.  But judging by the Office
of National Drug Control Policy's figures
that show drug seizures
from 1989–2003, it seems that there are plenty of drugs out
there.  In that time frame, marijuana and heroin seized by
law enforcement about doubled and cocaine remained steady.

Well, those
drugs have got to be harder to get, right? All those seizures
and agents and arrests must mean the price of drugs has gone up
thirty-fold!  According to the ONDCP's
report on the Price and Purity of Drugs
from 1981–2003,
cocaine is one-fifth as expensive (pg 69), crack is about one-third
as expensive (pg 71), heroin is one-sixth as expensive (pg 73),
and meth is half as expensive (pg 75).  However, the safest
of all recreational drugs, marijuana, did double in price (pg 77).

OK, so there
are more cheaper drugs that are easier to get, but surely
they've got to be less potent! According to the survey
previously mentioned, cocaine is about 50% more pure (pg 70), crack's
purity hasn't changed much (pg 72), heroin is three times more pure
(pg 74), meth purity is about the same (pg 76), and according to
the recently released report from the Drug
Czar's (Marijuana) Potency Monitoring Project
, marijuana potency
doubled from 1985-2007 (pg 17).

Wow. 
After thirty-five years of substantially escalating DEA budgets,
we've got cheaper, more powerful, more plentiful drugs.  But
maybe we now have substantially fewer drug users?
According to the National
Survey on Drug Use and Health
(multiple reports), in 1979 (first
year of collected data) 31.3% of the population aged 12 or older
had ever used drugs, by 2006 that figure increased to 45.4%. 
The percentage of lifetime drug users increased by about half. 
In raw figures, people who ever used drugs doubled from 56 million
to 111 million.

I would hope,
at least, with quadruple the number of agents and thirty times the
budget, the DEA would at least have more arrests to show
for it. According to the FBI's
Uniform Crime Reports
, we did go from 628,000 drug law arrests
in 1973 to almost 1.9 million arrests in 2006 — that's about triple
the number of arrests.

Has the increase
in arrests at least helped to save people's lives? 
According to the Centers
for Disease Control & Prevention
, back in 1979, 513 Americans
died from overdoses on opiates, cocaine, and meth.  By 1998,
nine-times more Americans died from those illegal drugs (4,942 Americans). 
(Data from 1999 and later is harder to quantify, as the CDC
changed how they classify overdose deaths
.  In 1999, 19,128
Americans died of "drug-induced causes"; in 2005, 33,541
died.  However, those figures include the rapidly-increasing
deaths from prescription drug overdoses
.)

Yikes! 
More people are dying from using more plentiful, more powerful drugs. 
Perhaps we're not getting to them early enough.  What
about the children? Didn't we at least end up with drastically
fewer high school seniors using drugs?  According to the Monitoring
the Future survey (Table 5-2, pg 199)
, often cited by the DEA,
in 1975 (first year of the survey), 45% of 12th graders had ever
tried an illicit drug.  In 2006 (most recent data), the number
of seniors who tried drugs was 36.5% — a decline of less than one-fifth
in thirty years.  Not exactly drastic.  At this rate,
the class of 2125 will be our first drug-free group of 12th graders.

So, not only
more adults using cheaper, more powerful, more plentiful drugs,
but barely a dent in the kids using these drugs.  But as the
US population has increased, there are more teenage drug users overall.
Has the DEA at least made it harder for the kids to get
drugs?  According to the Substance
Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration
, in 1992,
60% of teenagers said marijuana was easy to obtain, 40% said the
same about cocaine, and about a quarter said they could get heroin
easily.  In 2006, half of teenagers say it's easy to get pot,
one quarter say it's easy to get cocaine, and about one seventh
say it's easy to get heroin.

All right,
then, we've seen the availability of drugs drop by roughly one-fifth
among teenagers in fourteen years.  But when more than
a third of kids have tried drugs and half of them say drugs are
easy to get, I don't think that's much of a success story
for a $31 billion 35-year effort.

Bigger budgets,
more drugs.  More arrests, more deaths.  More seizures,
more potency.  More agents, more users.  For their thirty-fifth
anniversary, perhaps they should change their name to the Drug
Encouragement Administration.

July
3, 2008

“Radical”
Russ Belville [send him mail]
is the host of The Russ Belville
Show
on XM Satellite Radio and Portland’s Progressive Talk,
AM 620 KPOJ. Russ also hosts the NORML Daily Audio Stash podcast
(stash.norml.org) for the National Organization for the Reform of
Marijuana Lawsand is the Associate Director of NORML’s Portland,
Oregon chapter.

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