Monday, 18 January 2010

The war on 'P'

Nick Smith at the Sunday Star Times (HT: Gonzo) writes coherently on the likely outcome of the government's current push against methamphetamine.
The government is, says Key, winning "the fight against P".

But if "we" are winning the fight, what will success entail? An exhaustive account of the global cocaine trade (The Candy Machine, How Cocaine Took Over the World, by Tom Feiling) suggests all of the efforts by government and its agencies will make not a jot of difference and may even generate a worse social outcome.

It will not mean an end to drug-related crime – when costs become prohibitive, crime rates usually soar as users resort to desperate measures to acquire cash to feed their dependency, as Feiling shows. Look to the burglary and robbery figures for the March 2010 quarter. Nor will success strangle an important revenue stream for gangs, many of which are major suppliers of methamphetamine.

What usually happens is consolidation into larger, more sophisticated operations. Merger and acquisition is just as much a feature of illegal drug businesses as the world of Proctor & Gamble or Merck Sharp & Dohme.

Large organised criminal organisations, after all, are the only entities with sufficient market heft to handle the rising financial and human costs associated with drug dealing, whether in New Zealand or the US.

The scarcity and rising cost of P doesn't mean an end to drug use – history shows other drugs, potentially more harmful, become available, such as cocaine. Anecdotal reports suggest cocaine in New Zealand, traditionally the drug of the corporate and entertainment elite, is becoming more widely available and cheaper, per gram, than P.
Smith could also note some recent work from the American Economic Review where Dobkin and Nicosia find that a big meth bust in the US (similar to the one we've just had here) had the short term effect of tripling the price of methamphetamine but had no effect on property or violent crime; moreover, prices returned to normal within four months as suppliers worked out alternative arrangements. I'd expect it might take a bit longer for price to return here to normal (as we are an isolated island), but the overall effects should be little different. Dobkin and Nicosia's abstract, below:
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 preinter-vention levels within eighteen months.
New Zealand's drug warriors should be forced to watch The Wire, and especially the third season...

1 comment:

  1. I'm marginally shocked Smith thinks that cocaine is more damaging than P. Although Nutt's harm index places amphetamine below cocaine on the scale, P is considered a different class of drug to amphetamine - and Nutt sat on the UK ACMD when they advised to reclassify P to a class A over there.

    On the harm scale powder cocaine has been conflated with crack, and P hasn't been considered as a separate substance, so there's a clear bias if we refer to the harm index.

    I somehow don't believe that cocaine - so difficult is importation of drugs that can't be manufactured in-country, and so difficult it is to import precursors into NZ - is getting cheaper than P. Okay, I could see gram-for-gram, but then P has always been more expensive in that comparison. P is sold by the point as a consumption unit - 0.1g and the unit depends on purity - while cocaine is typically sold by units of 1g irrespective of purity. So compared to units of consumption, no.

    Smith's clearly fallen victim to a sample bias. Someone should have a word...