Research Proves Drug Interdiction Is A Self-Defeating Strategy

New research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on April 16, 2019, shows what drug policy reform advocates have said for years: drug interdiction strategies are self-defeating failures. The authors write:

The US government’s cocaine interdiction mission in the transit zone is now in its fifth decade. This is despite its long-demonstrated ineffectiveness, both in cost and results (9, 21). More cocaine entered the United States in 2015 than in any other year, inspiring a Department of Homeland Security-commissioned study that concluded “additional work is required to gain a better understanding of exactly how these drugs are successfully evading US law enforcement interdiction efforts” (ref. 58, p. 53).

The NarcoLogic model points to a clear, reproducible, and testable answer. The model produced realistic predictions of where and when narco-traffickers move in and around Central America in response to interdiction. In the process, it shows that the spatial dynamics of trafficker activity result from adaptive interactions with interdiction agents. In other words, narco-trafficking is as widespread and difficult to eradicate as it is because of interdiction, and increased interdiction will continue to spread traffickers into new areas, allowing them to continue to move drugs north.

They note:

Critics of interdiction point to failures to increase retail prices and reduce supply as evidence that interdiction itself is the problem (7⇓⇓–10). Moreover, interdiction has been qualitatively linked to the unintended spread and fragmentation of existing trafficking routes—known as the “balloon and cockroach effects,” respectively—into new and more numerous locations (2, 4). As a result, the Western Hemisphere transit zone grew from 2 to 7 million square miles between 1996 and 2017 (17, 18), making it more difficult and costly for law enforcement to track and disrupt trafficking networks (2, 5, 19). This expansion has also brought a litany of collateral damages. Locations through which drugs are smuggled experience narco-fueled violence and corruption (20), infusion of unparalleled amounts of cash and weapons (21), dispossession and seizure of land from rural communities (22), and extensive and rapid environmental destruction (21⇓–23). Critics add that interdiction is not a sustainable counterdrug strategy, because counterdrug forces will never be as well-capitalized, organized, or nimble as DTOs (24).

Proponents of interdiction, in contrast, locate the problem with drug traffickers. They argue that interdiction efforts are important for decreasing the total volume entering the United States, and are vital for deterring narco-trafficking activities in specific places (25). Indeed, seizure volumes are reaching all-time highs (26), and supply-side interdiction in source and transit zone countries has been linked to higher overall prices in consumption countries than would otherwise be attained in legal markets (19, 27⇓–29). Furthermore, supporters have pointed to the symbolic and moral value of interdiction efforts, because narco-traffickers are criminals and actions must be taken to stop them (30, 31). Proponents also maintain that interdiction would be more effective by correcting a number of operational aspects: insufficient and inconsistent interdiction equipment, funding, and staffing (25); low capacity and corruption among transit zone country partners (32, 33); and ineffective intelligence sharing among US military and law enforcement agencies (34). In particular, collateral damages from interdiction could be minimized with better intelligence to support spatially targeted interdiction (26) and greater funding to support a “whole-region” approach to increase citizen security (35).

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