Most researchers and academics don’t get into doing research for the money. Often their research is conducted within institutional confines of either Academia or some other entity. What is true about research is that it draws individuals who see potential solutions when they encounter a problem. They toil at the bench, in science laboratories, in lonely offices, sometimes at the only running computer in a dark computer lab. What is similar among these researchers across discipline, subject area, method, and medium is the desire to improve a situation. The very most that we can expect of research is that it will be used directly to improve someone’s life, through cures and vaccines. We also expect that research will inform policy, which will indirectly improve lives by changing the forces that govern social behavior. .
The last part, the expectation that research will be used for the betterment of society, can be infuriating, because in practice, this doesn’t happen. This has been the case with the on-going War on Drugs.
A study published this week in The British Medical Journal Open concluded that the continued “Drug War” has not reduced the market for illegal drugs or made them more expensive, during the period 1990-2007. Werb and colleagues analyzed years of longitudinal data from government surveillance systems assessing price, purity and/or seizure quantities of illegal drugs. Over their study period, the prices for heroine, cocaine, and cannabis decreased 81%, 80% and 86%, respectively, while average purity increased by 60%, 11% and 161%. The authors suggest that these two metrics indicate that the War on Drugs has been an epic, expensive failure.
Idealists and pragmatists would hope that evidence such as this, would be be used for retooling drug policy in the United States. This is unlikely, as there is very little recognition in the United States for the collateral damage caused by this policy. This collateral damage is borne by an excess number of minority voters who are disenfranchised following arrests, families that are reconfigured and restructured following the incarceration of parents, as well as unrealized opportunities for individuals with drug arrests. Even more egregious is when individuals are wrongly arrested and sentenced under the auspices of drug law enforcement.