Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Rand Corporation's Drug Policy Research Center

A tremendous resource for those interested in drug policy research is the Rand Corporation. Rand, of course, is the highly regarded non-profit think tank committed to researching issues of pressing public concern. Two of Rand’s research areas -- Public Safety and Substance Abuse – are directly relevant to sentencing and corrections policy.

Rand’s Drug Policy Research Center (DPRC) – a cross-disciplinary enterprise – identifies as its goal providing a “firm, empirical foundation on which sound drug policies can be built.” Each month, the DPRC issues a newsletter highlighting specific findings made by RAND researchers in the field of drug policy. Better still, you can have these reports sent directly to your e-mail account by subscribing at this page.

The DPRC has just issued its most recent report, “A Strong Economy Helps Reduce Teenage Substance Abuse.” The summary is as follows:

Teenage illicit drug use increased dramatically in the mid-1990s. Some research has shown that adult alcohol use is higher when the economy is stronger. Using self-reported information from a nationally representative sample of 16-18 year olds, a RAND DPRC study investigated whether teenage substance use would similarly increase if the economy improved. State variation in unemployment rates was used to capture the health of the local economies. The study shows that teenage substance use is higher when the economy is weaker, contrary to findings for adults. One potential explanation explored in the paper is increased participation in drug selling among teenagers when local unemployment rates are high. Results from a simple simulation based on these findings (see Figure 1) show that the economic boom in the late 1990's helped to mitigate what would otherwise have been a much larger increase in teenage marijuana use. One potential policy implication is that regional variation in the economy should be considered when allocating prevention resources, as those resources may be more effective in areas where the economy is doing poorly.

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