South America has long been in the cross hairs of the DEA and other government officials in regards to the illicit drug trade. The continent has been the biggest supplier of cocaine to the United States for decades. In an effort to curb the massive amount of cocaine funneling into the country, the Federal government mounted a significant and expensive attack on coca plant farmers and the drug cartels. Unfortunately, a new look at these measures show that the expectations of this attack do not match the outcome.
Daniel Mejia and Pascual Restrepo, economists at MIT and Colombia’s Universidad de los Andes, respectively, released an analysis that shows that very little positive results were attained from the United States’ $4.3 billion dollar effort from 2000 to 2008.
Plan Colombia was presented to taxpayers as a radical and aggressive way to significantly reduce the amount of cocaine coming into the United States. In order to cut the production of cocaine in Columbia, the United States invested over $4 billion dollars into aerial spraying of crops, interruption of cocaine smuggling and intelligence. However, these efforts have not paid off. In fact, according to the economists, in order to eliminate one kilogram of cocaine, the United States spent $940,000.
If they just wanted to get the drug off the streets, they could literally buy up the cocaine coming in and dispose of it – at a cost of only $30,000 per kilogram.
Mejia and Restrepo included an example of a much more cost effective approach to reducing the cocaine problem in this country. They cited a different analysis that shows that the cost of eliminating one kilogram of cocaine by investing in drug treatment centers would cost the country between $12,500 and $68,705 per year.
“If the U.S. wants to reduce drug consumption, it is better off investing in treatment and prevention programs domestically than subsidizing source country interventions, [such] as Plan Columbia,” explained Jonathon Caulkins, a drug policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University. Caulkins joins many other Americans who have begun to call for more treatment funding rather than punishment for addicts. As more and more people suffer from drug and alcohol addictions, it is becoming vital that the United States invests in reliable and effective treatment options.