The Emerging Science of Drug Policy

Drug policy research is at best a modestly sized field. Nonetheless, its findings have significant potential to help societies develop more effective public policies regarding marijuana, heroin, cocaine, nicotine and other psychoactive drugs. I am therefore very glad to announce that an extension of the international drug policy research integration conducted for the book Drug Policy and the Public Good appears today in The Lancet. A generation ago, a reviewer of the world’s drug policy research findings would have been pressed to fill even one article in such a prestigious scientific outlet; the field has clearly matured since.

The three review papers have different foci:

*Louisa Degenhardt and Wayne Hall integrate the international evidence on the contribution of illicit drug use and addiction to the global burden of disease.

*Peter Reuter and Robin Room make their case that the international drug conventions succeed neither in providing medications (e.g., opiates) where they are needed nor in preventing the availability of widely abused drugs

*John Strang, Tom Babor, Benedikt Fischer, David Foxcroft, Jonathan Caulkins and I discuss “what works” in drug policy, reviewing the evidence on source country control, interdiction, policing, prevention and health and social services for drug addicted individuals.

Lancet has made the articles available with a free registration here.

A shorter take on some of the key conclusions in the third paper will also available for free in an op-ed by Jon Caulkins and me in The Guardian (UK) today.

I have spent too much time in public policy circles to be starry-eyed about the likelihood that scientific evidence will be always be heeded in a policy area that is often dominated by demagogues of various stripes. Yet I also see many positive signs in Europe and the U.S. of openness to information in quarters that had previously been a mix of loud voices and closed ears. Scientists cannot and should not control drug policy (that would be grossly undemocratic), but they certainly can contribute systematic and reliable findings to the policy debate and insist that serious research be given more weight than wishes, hunches and anecdotes. The reviews of the drug policy research knowledge base in The Lancet today are offered to policymakers and the public in that spirit.

Please consider this an open thread to debate and discuss anything in The Lancet papers if you are so led.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.