What drug policies cost. Estimating government drug policy expenditures


Peter Reuter, School of Public Policy and Department of Criminology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA. E-mail: preuter@umd.edu


Aims  Many nations now spend large sums of government money to reduce drug problems. The size and composition of public expenditures aimed at reducing drug use and related problems (a drug budget) is a useful partial description of a nation's drug policy. This paper examines whether it is possible to estimate these sums in a consistent manner across nations.

Methods  Past drug budget efforts in the United Kingdom and United States were reviewed. A new methodology was offered for estimation and used for estimates of expenditures in the Netherlands and Sweden. Using this methodology, expenditures were compared. 

Findings  In both the Netherlands and Sweden, with very different official drug policy rhetoric, enforcement expenditures dominate the total; prevention expenditures are a tiny share. The baseline estimates indicate that the Netherlands, by a variety of metrics (e.g. Euros per capita, Euros per problematic user), spends more on drug control, even enforcement, than Sweden but the range of estimates is such that this cannot be inferred with confidence.

Conclusion  Estimating total government expenditures on reducing drug use and related problems is feasible and can yield useful policy insights.