Illicit drug use among arrestees, prices and policy
Prior studies, by relying on nationally representative surveys, have overlooked the important fact that use of addictive substances is not uniformly distributed; subgroups of hardcore users account for most of the drug consumption. This study employs the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring system to analyze the demand for cocaine and heroin by urban arrestees, employing objective indicators of use based on urinalysis. The data are repeated city cross sections, and panel data methodology is employed to account for endogeneity. Cocaine and heroin prices have a negative effect on the probability of use even among this group of heavy users. Results indicate that subjective, self-reported measures of participation are likely to be under-reported, which may impart bias to estimates of the price elasticity. The own-price cocaine participation elasticity is about -0.15, and the own-price heroin participation elasticity is about -0.10 for arrestees. This contemporaneous elasticity understates the full effect, and the long-run price elasticity is about twice the magnitude. The magnitude of the price response is substantially smaller relative to the estimates in the prior literature, and calculations suggest that further enforcement and interdiction-driven increases in drug prices may not be cost-effective.
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