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U.S. Anti-Drug Efforts Failing, Says GAO Report


May-June 1997

"Despite some successes, United States and host countries' efforts have not materially reduced the availability of drugs in the United States," according to a U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) report issued in March. The report also says that additional research is needed to improve prevention and treatment programs in the war on drugs and to better direct national resources towards eliminating drug abuse (United States General Accounting Office, "Drug Control: Observations on Elements of the Federal Drug Control Strategy," GGD-97-42, Report to Congressional Requesters, March 1997; Juanita Darling, "Drug War Appears to Make Little Dent in Supply," Los Angeles Times, March 29, 1997, p. A3; "Paying more, but getting less," Law Enforcement News, March 31, 1997, p. 1). ["Host countries" is the term U.S. law enforcement officers use to describe the other nations in which they are permitted to operate -- host in relationship to guest. -- EES]

Several reasons for the failure of U.S. anti-drug efforts are given, including the opportunities of international drug dealers to circumvent our drug-control efforts, and the number of conflicting foreign policy objectives.

According to the report, in spite of the $15 billion fiscal year 1997 budget for anti-drugs programs, there are more than enough drugs produced in the world to meet the U.S. demand. In 1995, about 230 of the 780 metric tons of cocaine produced were seized by law enforcement worldwide, leaving 550 metric tons available to meet U.S. demand, estimated to be 300 metric tons a year. In addition the report states that crop eradication techniques have failed because "farmers planted new coca faster than existing crops were eradicated."

The report also examined drug prevention, specifically school-based prevention programs. The GAO identified two types of approaches that seem to work with children. The first are programs that emphasize problem-solving and decision-making skills. The second involves the use of the family, the school, and several other institutions to achieve a multi-operational approach to prevention. The report identifies three successful programs: the Adolescent Alcohol Prevention Trial; the Life Skills Training Program; and the Midwestern Prevention Project.

Another area examined was treatment of cocaine dependency. Three approaches were deemed "promising" by the researchers. The first, "relapse prevention," develops coping strategies. The second, "community reinforcement/contingency management," involves family members and loved ones in the addict's treatment. And the third, "neurobehavioral therapy," is a comprehensive therapeutic approah. All three approaches have been somewhat successful in creating abstinence among addicts.

The report was issued in response to a request by Representatives Frank Wolf (R-VA) and John Porter (R-IL) for information to help Congress reexamine the government's drug control strategy. It focused on three areas of drug policy, and essentially reviewed previous research.

The GAO made four recommendations to the Representatives: (1) the development of "a long-term plan with meaningful performance measures"; (2) "at least annually, review the progress made and adjust the plan"; (3) "enhance support for the increased use of intelligence and technology" to reduce the drug supply; and (4) developing a "centralized system for recording and disseminating lessons learned by various agencies."

The GAO report (document number GGD-97-42) is located on-line at and can be obtained by contacting the U.S. General Accounting Office, P.O. Box 6015, Gaithersburg, MD 20884-6015, tel: (202) 512-6000, fax: (301) 258-4066.