Illegal drugs used in '90 cost $40 billion, U.S. says

June 20, 1991|By Charles Holmes | Charles Holmes,Cox News Service

WASHINGTON -- Americans spent at least $40 billion on illegal drugs last year, according to the government's first attempt in a decade to put a price on street sales.

"It's a hell of a lot of money being spent on drugs," said Bob Martinez, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Cocaine accounted for $17.5 billion in retail sales last year, heroin $12.3 billion, marijuana $8.8 billion and other drugs $1.8 billion, according to a report compiled by a private research organization from government data.

While cocaine production increased 5 percent from 1988 to 1990, better enforcement caused a 22 percent decline in the amount available for purchase in the United States, the report said.

Specific estimates, calculated over a three-year period since 1988, show a decline in total drug value from $51.6 billion in 1988 to $40.4 billion in 1990.

By comparison, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association says Americans spent $38.6 billion on prescription drugs in 1990.

"As encouraging as these signs are, more work needs to be done," Mr. Martinez said in a speech to a national conference on state and local drug policy where he unveiled the study.

But Representative Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of theHouse Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, criticized the report as "insignificant and irrelevant."

Mr. Rangel questioned the reliability of the figures and said Mr. Martinez, the nation's drug policy director since March, should spend his time and effort improving treatment and enforcement.

"It adds nothing to the policy discussions and debate over how we should slay the drug dragon," Mr. Rangel said. Officials at the drug policy office said that despite a possible wide margin of error, the figures were a reasonable measure.

Mr. Martinez said the report, produced for the Bush administration by Abt Associates Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., offered "some sense of the scope and scale of the problem."

The numbers in the report were based on the volume of drug users in the nation's criminal justice system and on government-sponsored surveys of drug use among high school and college students and U.S. households.

A consortium of government agencies last estimated the retail value of the U.S. drug market in 1980.

That year, the estimate was $79 billion.

The report estimates that:

* The overwhelming majority of drug sales, totaling $30.6 billion, are to people who have been arrested for or convicted of crimes.

* The retail value of illicit drugs consumed in 1990 by adult Americans who are not students, dropouts or prisoners was $3.6 billion, including $2.4 billion for marijuana and $1.2 billion for cocaine.

* College students last year bought more than $1 billion in drugs, with cocaine accounting for $594 million and marijuana $431 million.

* High school students in 1990 consumed $619 million worth of illegal drugs, with marijuana accounting for $343 million and cocaine $276 million.

* Retail sales of cocaine and marijuana both dropped 24 percent from 1988 to 1990, while retail heroin sales declined 22 percent.

In his speech, Mr. Martinez called on the Senate to restore for the drug war about $400 million that a House spending plan proposes cutting from the administration's 1992 budget request.

"I am afraid Congress has decided that, now that we are beginning to win the war, we must surrender," Mr. Martinez said.

Mr. Martinez also said the administration's drug strategy next year would place a new emphasis on combating the use of alcohol and tobacco by minors.

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