Sunday, March 16, 2008

It's All About Demand

I’ve been thinking about the whole thing about having to provide my driver’s license to buy Sudafed. The more I think about it, the more it bothers me.

When I was in college I took this very interesting class called Drugs Across Cultures. This class was fascinating in that each lecture was about a different drug and how the production and consumption of each drug affected the economy and the culture of where the drug was produced and where it was consumed. Inevitably a culture forms around the purchase and use of the drug in which all the people involved develop their own jargon when talking about the drug, their own rituals for where and when to consume to drug and their own social mores for how to behave before, during and after use. A very risky economy is produced in which the players are paying money for the drug, and there is a complex distribution pattern that gets the drug from where it was produced to where it is consumed, and all the people involved all get paid along the way. If anyone in this chain is compromised by law enforcement, then the entire system is impacted and its economic gains are interrupted.

While learning about the economical and cultural ramifications of each drug was very interesting, the main thing I took away was the law of the international drug trade. When you deny a supplier a market, the supplier will find another market. If you deny a user a supplier, they will simply seek another supplier. In other words, the demand still exists whether or not the supplier exists. As long as the dealer knows there is demand somewhere, then all they have to do find those people who demand the drug. All that is necessary for a drug dealer to flourish is for the demand to be present.

Why is the demand present? What is it that people are looking for when they buy and use drugs? And why do we as a society think that having to provide a driver’s license at the pharmacy to buy a box of Sudafed will do anything to lessen the demand—which is what actually drives the drug trade?

This is the very idea of why it bothers me that I had to provide a driver’s license to buy Todd some Sudafed. If there’s someone out there who is hell-bent enough on producing and distributing meth—to keep up with the demand of their customers--then having to provide their driver’s license to buy the main ingredients will not stop them. They will simply find another way to get the ingredients back to the lab and keep up with production. There are trucks to be robbed, fake IDs to be gotten, or maybe by now there are Sudafed mules whose job is to go into the stores and get Sudafed. Limiting the quantities of Sudafed will only be a speed bump for the producers and dealers of the drug, and will only drive up the cost of the drug—because getting the ingredients to make it is now just a bit harder.

This policy—whether it’s a law or a store policy—though good intentioned does little to address why the demand for crystal meth exists in the first place.

Diatribe over.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an uninformed post. The issue was not mass production and distribution. It was that young children were purchasing large quantities of pseudoephedrine to try and make Meth, then when the screwed it up they were dying or becoming brain damaged. More importantly, after creating a "broken" drug, they were distributing it to otherwise good kids in their schools, killing them or damaging their brains and servous systems permanantly.

The drivers license requirement track the quantities that adults get, but it also makes it harder for kids to get it. No one expects complete prevention here, the goal is to place as many barriers as possible between kids and stupid decisions.

This post is like saying, if you lock your door a thief will break the window anyway so don't bother locking your door.

Most crimes are crimes of opportunity. We limit opportunity by introducing obstacle.

March 16, 2008 at 3:53 PM  
Blogger BJ Knapp said...

Anonymous, thank you for your comment. You make an excellent point. And I do understand the intent behind having to provide ID. I really do. And I certainly appreciate that you took the time to share your opinion. Thank you for visiting.

I think that obstacles to getting Sudafed are just that--obstacles. You can get around obstacles. For example, see yesterday's post about my dog opening the refrigerator and helping himself to its contents. The door is merely an obstacle, and my dog--who lacks opposable thumbs--still craves what's inside, and still finds a way to open it.

It's a demand issue for him. He enjoys eating people food, and he's found a ways to get into the fridge no matter how I've tried to barricade it, and how many times I've told him no.

So, what's a dog owner to do? Not keep food in the fridge? Would taking away the supply of food keep him out of the people food? No. He will likely go into the trash, or the neighbors trash. Maybe he'll figure out how to open the door and get into the pantry. So I address his demand for people food by easing his mind other ways--leaving out rawhides, toys, and other things he enjoys so he won't want the people food until the next time he gets some dog food.

It's the same idea with kids and drugs. The kids are buying the Sudafed to meet a demand for the drug. For some reason they want meth. The war on drugs in the US has largely been a waste because it has assumed that if you take the drug away you will take away the usage. That is not true. The drug demanding public will not automatically stop demanding the drug because it is not as available anymore. They will simply look to get it somewhere else. There are people still snorting coke, still smoking crack and still shooting heroin regardless of how many planes have flown over fields in Columbia and Mexico spraying herbicides and regardless of how many smugglers are caught at the border.

Just like for buying alcohol, kids will procure Sudafed another way. They'll get a fake ID. They'll get older siblings to get it. Hell, they might even steal it from every medicine cabinet they happen upon.

Just as requiring ID to get beer hasn't lessened the demand for beer among teens--I suspect that requiring ID for Sudafed will not lessen that demand.

What is it about meth that makes people want to use it?

The truth is, I really don't have an answer to reducing bdrug usage in the US. But I suspect that tackling the problem from the demand side rather than the supply side--while a more difficult proposition--would lessen demand in the long run, right?

March 16, 2008 at 5:31 PM  

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