Data: Meth Math

Prohibition has little to do with declining drug use


In March meth was back in the headlines, and this time the prognosis was cheerful: The nation's largest drug testing company, Quest, reported that the share of job applicants and employees testing positive for methamphetamine fell 22 percent between 2006 and 2007. At the same time, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a report highlighting a 31 percent decrease in the number of illegal meth lab seizures in the previous year. Drug czar John Walters boasted that restrictions on the sale of the meth precursor pseudoephedrine and crackdowns at the Mexican border had reduced meth use by restricting the supply and raising prices. "When we are able to put strategic pressure on the supply of these drugs," he declared, "what we're seeing is a direct effect for the better on the number of users."

There's a significant problem with that theory: A closer look at data on drug use from several sources, including Quest, shows that meth consumption had been declining for years before the feds swung into action. Decreases in usage is more likely due to the cyclical nature of drug fads than to the government's assault on domestic labs and Mexican traffickers.