Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Drug Czar Announces New Idiocy

On June 1, 2006 the ONDCP made its latest pronouncement concerning methamphetamines. Actually, it's worse than that -- they actually created yet another "strategy" document detailing their plans to continue to "combat meth" along with other synthetic drugs.

The main goal outlined by this "strategy" is to reduce past month use of methamphetamines by 15% over the next three years. Even on the surface, that hardly sounds ambitious -- especially given that such "goals" in the past have been as high as a 25 percent reduction for overall drug use (albeit over a five year span). So, in general, there is already a standing drug use reduction goal of 5% per year. But to truly appreciate exactly how asinine this latest pronouncement actually is requires that we first look at some additional data that will give us some perspective on the magnitude (actually lack thereof) of the issues. Then we can skewer the drug czar with the very information supplied to lay out the plan for this next big achievement in the battle against meth.

For starters, you will be hard pressed to find too many drugs that are used by fewer people than methamphetamines. If you pay attention to the mainstream media, you've certainly heard about how meth use is "epidemic" and that meth labs are exploding across the land. But the data about meth use indicate that it is nowhere near as dire as claimed. Indeed, 99.4 percent of all Americans have not used meth in the past year. The primary source of drug use data among the general population is the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (latest version) and some really handy information about the use of various drugs and timeframes of use is in the very first table in Appendix H.

Right there, in that table, we can see that there were a mere 583,000 past month meth users in 2004. The population of American people 12 or older in 2004 was 240,515,000 according to Table G.2 in appendix G of the NSDUH. That means that a mere one-quarter of one percent (0.24) of the US population aged 12 or older was a past month meth user in 2004. In the year prior to that there were 607,000 past month meth users (0.256% of the population). That is a drop of 3.95% in the number of past month meth users in one year -- which happened two years before the "strategy" to reduce such use by 15 percent over three years. So meth use decreased all by itself without any special focus by the drug czar. If you set the bar low enough you actually do not have to accomplish anything to get the "desired" result and declare victory.

Even more interesting is the fact that the number of people who try methamphetamine for the first time is similarly low: in 2003 (latest figures available) there were 323,000 Americans who tried meth for the first time. That is one-tenth of one percent (0.136) of the population over age 12. Yep, 99.864 percent of Americans did not try meth for the first time in 2003. And only six-tenths of one-percent of Americans were past year meth users in 2004.

Indeed, the "fact sheet" in the report actually contains a chart depicting the steady decline in meth use from 2001 through 2005 which is even labeled to indicate that the number of past month users has declined by 36 percent over the past four years, past year use has declined 30% and the number who have ever used meth has declined by 34%. Wow, and that was before the problem became so immense that it required its own separate battle plan! Frankly, I'd be embarassed to publish a plan to decrease the use of meth by 5% per year given that all by itself it has declined an average of 9% per year in the case of past month use. But maybe that's why I'm the Anti-Drugwar Czar, instead of the "Drug Czar." And I'm completely baffled that the Drug Czar is bragging about how he got Mexico, China, Thailand, and India involved in his new amazing plan. How in the world are those countries going to help slow down the rate of decline in meth use to 5 percent per year instead of the natural 9 percent per year it has been declining? Perhaps they will import more meth to the US, or somehow get more people to use it next year.

So our drug czar is trumpeting a new campaign to accomplish very little in the name of combatting an issue that involves an extraordinarily small portion of the population. For the record, the number of new meth users actually peaked in 1979 at 465,000 first time users out of a total 180,343,000 Americans 12 or older (0.26%) in the population. Thus, even at it's "most popular" methamphetamine use is simply not very appealing to most people who use various drugs. Sabre rattling over meth use, is of course, demonstratably a popular activity for the drug czar. I guess he's hurting for "victories."