Friday, October 9, 2009

The 'plan' against P

The New Zealand government's latest initiative to fight crystal meth, or P, has been rightly excoriated. The National Business review, linked above, summarizes provisions:
  • Making pseudoephedrine a Class B2 controlled drug (prescription only)
  • Using proceeds of crime legislation to fund Police and Customs activities to fight gangs and organised crime, along with the expansion of drug treatment services
  • A $22 million MOH investment into short and long-term treatment for P addiction (available to more than 3,000 more patients over the next three years)
  • An additional 40 dedicated Customs officers
  • A police methamphetamine control strategy, from November, to use intelligence in new ways to target gangs, investigate drug syndicates, target P cooks and seize assets and funds
  • A review of the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966, to provide more effective means for families and doctors to get P addicts into compulsory assessment and treatment
Matt Nolan at TVHE points out that this will wind up increasing the rents for the drug gangs; he also makes the strong case for taxation and regulation rather than prohibition. Moreover, high costs will be imposed on folks legitimately seeking pseudoephedrine for medicinal reasons.

GoNZo provides delicious parody
Brime Minister John Key today announced that the letter P was to be restricted to doctor broscriptions until further notice.

"For too long, we have seen the damage that P causes to our communities. It has ruined families, destroyed lives and caused sound engineers immense frustration over many years. It is time this stobbed."

John Key's announcement follows Brofessor Beter Gluckman's advice to the brime minister, which concluded that there are other letters which can berform similarly to the dangerous P.

David Farrar comes out in favour of the initiative but is near unanimously condemned by his commentariat for having done so. They variously accuse him of shilling for the National Party (which I don't believe) and just being wrong (which I do believe). Not only are comments by a wide margin taking him to task but those comments also draw the highest favour among other readers in Kiwiblog's comment ranking system.

MacDoctor notes that pseudoephedrine is far more effective than alternatives and that the ban will impose costs on cold sufferers.

What can I add?

First, I'm pretty worried about more vigorous use of the proceeds of crime act. It was a bad idea when it was initiated, it's a bad idea now, and its more emphatic use is an even worse idea. American experience with civil asset forfeiture is an abomination we'd do well to avoid. If the police have a strong pecuniary interest in pursuing one type of crime, substitution effects can easily dominate income effects and soon police spend very little time dealing with less lucrative (to them) types of crime. Nandor Tanczos did nice work in trying to stop this legislation when it first came through, to no avail.

Second, the US experience suggests that the policy will be an absolute dismal failure. Here's Dobkin and Nicosia in the American Economic Review, March 2009 (ungated version)
In mid-1995, a government effort to reduce the supply of methamphetamine precursors successfully disrupted the methamphetamine market and interrupted a trajectory of increasing usage. The price of methamphetamine tripled and purity declined from 90 percent to 20 percent. Simultaneously, amphetamine related hospital and treatment admissions dropped 50 percent and 35 percent, respectively. Methamphetamine use among arrestees declined 55 percent. Although felony methamphetamine arrests fell 50 percent, there is no evidence of substantial reductions in property or violent crime. The impact was largely temporary. The price returned to its original level within four months; purity, hospital admissions, treatment admissions, and arrests approached preintervention levels within eighteen months.
From the article's conclusion:
That the enormous reduction in the availability of methamphetamine did not discernibly reduce property and violent crime suggests either that methamphetamine does not cause large amounts of crime or that supply interventions, no matter how successful, are not an effective way of reducing crime associated with methamphetamine use. The lack of an effect on crime cannot be explained by users’ substitution of other drugs. Based on our analyses, the substitution of other drugs at most offsets only a small part of the reduction in methamphetamine use. This is quite possibly the DEA’s greatest success in disrupting the supply of a major illicit substance.52 This success was the result of a highly concentrated input supply market and consequently may be difficult to replicate for drugs with less centralized sources of supply, such as cocaine and heroin. That this massive market disruption resulted in only a temporary reduction
in adverse health events and drug arrests, and did not reduce property and violent crimes, is disappointing.

Third, why should doctors' time be taken up by this? Who is the marginal patient who will otherwise be displaced either by folks with colds seeking prescriptions or folks faking colds trying to make P?

Finally, if we're going to try something to reduce demand for P, why not try legalizing marijuana? I have a very hard time believing that P would ever have arisen as a problem were better alternatives legal.

Otherwise, I agree entirely with Nolan, GoNZo and MacDoctor. Stupid stupid policy. Red nanny, blue nanny....

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