Were Bush's Policies So Effective That They Reduced Drug Use Retroactively?


Last night a commenter asked about President Bush's assertion in his State of the Union address that "drug use among youth is down 19 percent since 2001." Judging from the Monitoring the Future Study, that seems about right to me. Between 2001 and 2005, for example, self-reported past-month use of illegal drugs fell from 11.9 percent to 8.5 percent among eighth-graders (a 29 percent drop), from 22.7 percent to 17.3 percent among 10th-graders (a 24 percent drop), and from 25.7 percent to 23.1 percent among 12th-graders (a 10 percent drop). A rough average of those declines is 21 percent.

A more important question is whether Bush's policies had anything to do with these declines. The peak year for past-month drug use among eighth-graders and 10th-graders was 1996, five years before Bush took office; past-month use among seniors peaked in 1997. Allowing time for any changes he implemented after taking office in 2001 to have an impact, I suppose Bush could try to take credit for the continuation of the downward trend after, say, 2002. But it's not clear how he thinks he accomplished that. By shifting the emphasis of the government's anti-drug propaganda from the hazards of illegal intoxicants to drug users' complicity in terrorism? By continuing the Clinton administration's cruel, dogmatic crusade against medical marijuana users? By putting Tommy Chong in jail for selling bongs?

NEXT: Which Way Does That Slippery Slope Run Again?

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  1. dunno about you guys, but I quit sniffing glue the day Tommy C. went to jail.

  2. Yes, I’d like to take credit for the fall of the U.S.S.R., because it happened after I was born. Ditto the advent of the Internet, man going to the Moon, and everything else that has happened the last 39 years. Yay, me!

  3. Were I a young fellow being polled about marijuana use. If I did, I would lie about it.

  4. drug use among youth is down 19 percent since 2001

    Assuming this is true, its a darned shame. Your hard-core addictive personalities, the ones whose lives are harmed by drugs, will the be last to quit using. That means that any decrease will be amongst your recreational users.

    Personally, I wouldn’t have missed out on recreational drug use as yout’ for anything, but I grew up in the halcyon ’70s.

  5. Do these stats include youth in prison? Perhaps the decline is due, at least in part, to incarceration.

    Bush should have bragged about the large prison population. All that job creation, staying competitive with China, implementing Christian values of forgiveness and love for your enemy.

  6. We are basing statistics and measuring the effectiveness of the WoD with these sorts of methods?

    For starters most of those school kids can’t follow instructions to save themselves. Then add in the fact there is no way to know the information is valid and to assume so just because it was self reported by kids no less doesn’t add to the numbers credibility. These kids could be putting anything on those questionaires, hmmmmm kids never lie or fuck around especially if they know they can’t be punished for it do they?

    I love it when a politician or member of the NARCO squads spouts numbers as if its their bank account statement with such certainty and absolute correctness.

    Again I ask ANYONE, anyone in the world to tell me the percentage of an unknown number. The DEA says they captured 20% of the drugs coming into the country for example. Unless they are weighing each load of drugs both those caught and those that get through there is no way they can know shit. Unless of course they do have these numbers because they know how much they allow into the country each year but that doesn’t seem likely if they truly want to be rid of drugs.

    The DEA wants drugs to disappear like pharma wants a cure for cancer. As in someday maybe but for now we like things how they are. Plenty of jobs for the DEA and payoffs from drug runners and plenty of profits for pharma in treating cancer. Sure the cancer treatment will end up killing you in some other way but you won’t die from the cancer at least and thats all that really matters. Well that and the millions they make off each cancer patient.

    So quick I have a number in my head. Someone tell me what 21% of that number amounts to?

    Ask your doctor if it’s right for you!

  7. 10% drop amongst 12th graders for illegal drugs, 7.6% for 12th graders for “Been Drunk” past 30 days. Gasp, could kids just be changing their ways without government anywhere having an impact on it? Perish the thought.

    Other notes: for 12th graders, cocaine use is up 9.5%, heroin use is up 25%, while ecstasy use is down 64%, which lends some credence to the theory of kids who fool around with drugs change their ways while the more serious drug users have not (or have, in the opposite direction). Then there’s meth, which is down 40% for 12th graders.

    Anyway. I’m gonna put those numbers in my pipe and go smoke ’em now.

  8. Did W take credit for reduced drug use? I merely thought he was using it as an exaample–along with reduced abortion numbers–to make the point for optimism among those who think society is on a highway to hell.

    And is Freakonomics author Steven Levitt is right, I’ll expect the reduced number of abortions to portend a rise in drug use and crime in the coming decade…be interesting to see who gets credit for that if and when.

  9. Whether or not the numbers are correct, it certainly seemed to me that he was trying to associate the less-drug-use and less-abortion trends with abstinence education, which he mentioned almost in the same breath:

    “Drug use among youth is down 19 percent since 2001. There are fewer abortions in America than at any point in the last three decades, and the number of children born to teenage mothers has been falling for a dozen years in a row.

    These gains are evidence of a quiet transformation — a revolution of conscience, in which a rising generation is finding that a life of personal responsibility is a life of fulfillment. Government has played a role. Wise policies, such as welfare reform and drug education and support for abstinence and adoption have made a difference in the character of our country.”

  10. Following a hunch about how the average American would interpret Bush’s claim, I asked my wife what Bush meant by the reduction in drug use. I said to her, “Let’s say 40% of kids do drugs, and Bush says drug use is down 20%, what percent of kids do drugs now?” She said “20%”. I said, “You don’t think he meant drug use is down 20% of the 40%?” She said, “No, I would subtract the amount it’s gone down; that’s the definition of ‘down’.”

    So you see why some people would complain about his use of statistics. They are not incorrect, and are presented in a way so familiar to those of us in the social science world that we have trouble seeing how people might interpret them another way. But they might. If drug use is 23% in 2001 and is down 20% in 2005, many people will think we are down to just 3%.

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