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Statement of John P. Walters
Director of National Drug Control Policy
Before the Senate Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Treasury and General Government

"The Office of National Drug Control Policy's FY 2003 Budget Request"

April 24, 2002

II. Assessing the Extent of the Drug Problem in Our Nation

The Administration is committed to using science, research, and performance management to direct our drug policy decisions. This informed decision-making process will enable us to accomplish our goal of reducing drug use in America. Everyone who cares about the drug issue knows that our nation's drug problem is not a recent phenomenon. Unfortunately, drug use among our nation's youth has remained at unacceptably high levels for most of the past decade. Sadly, illicit drug use has once again become all too acceptable among our young people. This acceptance threatens to reverberate for years to come in areas as disparate as crime rates, higher education, economic competitiveness, and cohesiveness of community and family. For all these reasons, it is incumbent on us to do all we can to empower individuals to say "no" to drug use.

The following is a snapshot of the state of drug use in our country and the enormous harmful consequences it inflicts upon our society:

Overall Trends. According to the NHSDA, in 2000, 6.3 percent of the household population aged 12 and older (14.0 million persons) were "current" or past month users of an illicit drug, a level that was unchanged from 1999. Three of four current users (10.7 million) reported using marijuana, either alone or in combination with other drugs. Trend data prior to 1999 are not directly comparable to these numbers because a new methodology to improve and expand the survey was implemented in 1999. Nevertheless, historical data show that drug use peaked in 1979, when 25 million people (or 14.1 percent of the population) used illegal drugs.

Adult Trends. According to the NHSDA, current drug use among adults—aged 18 or older—remained statistically unchanged between 1999 and 2000, at 5.8 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively. Four out of ten report having tried an illicit drug in their lifetime.

Youth Trends. Drug use among 12–17 year olds also remained relatively unchanged—9.8 percent in 1999 and 9.7 percent in 2000. According to NHSDA, in 2000, 7.2 percent were current marijuana users, and about one in four youth (26.9 percent) have tried an illicit drug in their lifetime. The school-based Monitoring the Future study shows that among 8th graders, 11.7 percent reported past-month (current) use of any illicit drugs in 2001, lower than the 1996 peak of 14.6 percent. Among 10th graders, 22.7 percent reported current drug use in 2001, relatively stable in recent years and down slightly from the 1996 peak of 23.2 percent. For 12th graders, 25.7 percent reported current drug use in 2001, also relatively stable compared to the decade's peak of 26.2 percent recorded 1997. We are concerned that every day in 1999 (the latest year for which data are available), more than 3,800 young people tried marijuana for the first time, 1,800 tried hallucinogens, and about 1,700 tried inhalants. Every day over the same period, over 8,000 youths first used alcohol.

Consequences of Drug Use. There were 19,102 deaths as a result of drug-induced causes in 1999, a slight drop from the 20,227 deaths in 1998. In 2000, there were 601,563 drug-related emergency room episodes in the United States. This is an increase of 16 percent over the 518,800 episodes reported for 1994. Episodes including cocaine remain at their historic highs; in 2000 there were 174,881 mentions of cocaine, an increase of 22 percent since 1994.

Drug Consumption and Expenditure Estimates. Americans spent over $64 billion on illegal drugs in 2000. Most of the expenditure was for cocaine ($35 billion), followed by marijuana ($10.5 billion) and heroin ($10 billion). The amount of cocaine consumed in the United States has been declining over the past 10 years, from over 440 metric tons in 1990 to 260 metric tons in 2000. Heroin consumption has been stable at 13 to 14 metric tons per year, over the past 5 years.

Drug Availability. Though overall coca cultivation decreased between 1995 and 2000, a 25 percent increase in Colombia resulted in an overall 18 % increase in overall Andean Coca production in 2001. The primary coca cultivation country is now Colombia, which accounts for 580 metric tons, or 75 percent of the potential production. This compares with 1995, where Colombia's potential production was less than 25 percent of world production. In 1995, Peru contributed 50 percent of the total potential production. DEA's Heroin Signature Program, which chemically analyzes heroin seizures, suggests that Colombia is the source of over 60 percent of the heroin entering the United States and Mexico is the source of an additional 20 percent.

Drug Seizures. Worldwide cocaine seizures, over the past five years, have averaged 280 metric tons (an average of 28 percent of the potential production). Those seizures are distributed equally among three components: 1) South America, 2) in transit to the US market, and 3) domestic United States, which includes seizures at and within the United States border. Each of those components contributes to 30 percent of worldwide seizures. The remaining 10 percent are from seizures in overseas markets. Seizures in transit to United States markets have been rising (reaching 110 metric tons in 2001), while seizures at the border have fallen (down to 34 metric tons in 2001), suggesting that we are removing drugs farther from our borders. Federal cocaine seizures have varied between 100 to 130 metric tons over the past five years. Federal heroin seizures have been averaging 1,500 kilograms annually, but exceeded 1,600 kilograms in 2000. Federal seizures of marijuana, which occur primarily at the Southwest border, have increased annually about 20 percent for the past five years. In 2000, these seizures exceeded 1,200 metric tons. Federal seizures of methamphetamine rose dramatically in the late 1990s, and exceeded 3,300 kilograms in 2000. The number of clandestine methamphetamine labs destroyed is projected to exceed 7,000 when the 2001 figures are finalized. This compares with fewer than 4,000 labs destroyed in 1998.

It is all too obvious that despite our best efforts, too many Americans are using drugs. Too many of our young people are using drugs at a very early age. Too many of our citizens are addicted. The drug trade is too prosperous. These statistics make abundantly clear that achieving our goals will be a tremendous challenge. We are heartened that Americans will never acquiesce to those who believe there is nothing more we can do to reduce drug use—that we should be satisfied with the status quo. We will meet this challenge by uniting as a nation to begin the long and complex task of stopping use among youth before it starts, transforming drug users back to health, and disrupting drug markets to reduce the flow of illegal drugs into our country.

Last Updated: April 24, 2002

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