It's a $150 billion-a-year industry
(NationalSentinel) A new study by the non-partisan RAND Corporation helps explain why it's going to be difficult, if not impossible, to ever stop the illicit drug trade: It's worth tens of billions of dollars per year.
Researchers at the think tank wrote in their report that illegal narcotics generate some $150 billion annually, or as much as the amusement and gambling industry generated in 2016.
The exhaustive analysis of drug use and spending data contained in the report indicates that there are about 30 million chronic drug users in the U.S. alone as of 2016, with major increases in the number of methamphetamine, marijuana, and heroin users. The estimated revenue from all of this drug use is $150 billion a year, researchers note in the report.
The Washington Free Beacon adds:
The estimates are based primarily on data from the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program, an annual survey that tracked drug use behaviors among male arrestees between 2007 and 2013.
The RAND team then applied data from other surveys and estimates of drug use-including overdose death figures and rates of drug seizure among police-to bootstrap the national number of chronic users and the amount they annually spend on drugs.
RAND notes that analyzing the illicit drug market is extremely difficult, mostly because buyers and sellers have an interest in remaining secretive. As such, the report's estimates contain very large confidence intervals, with certainty falling off after 2013.
"In other words, they are just a guess at magnitude, albeit the most certain guess possible given the constraints of data," the Free Beacon reported.
The Trump administration has made curbing illicit drug use, especially opioids use, a major policy objective. Opioid abuse has reached epidemic levels and kills tens of thousands of Americans each year.
In fact, Americans are now more likely to die from an opioid overdose than they are a motor vehicle accident, NPR reported in January.
"The nation's opioid crisis is fueling the Council's grim probabilities, and that crisis is worsening with an influx of illicit fentanyl," the National Safety Council noted.
Fentanyl is now the drug most often responsible for drug overdose deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in December.
As for illicit drugs, estimates vary regarding what Mexico-based cartels earn from drug smuggling every year, but it is in the billions of dollars.
The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime in a 2011 report said: "According to estimates collected for a study on US-Mexico Security Cooperation (2010), the Mexican Government estimated drug-related cash flows from the USA to Mexico at some US $11 [billion] per year."
Reuters reported in 2018 that "the cash-rich cartels [are] believed by the Mexican government to generate well over $21 billion each year."
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service in a 2018 report noted that the Sinaloa cartel, until recently run by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, "by some estimates ... had grown to control 40%-60% of Mexico's drug trade by 2012 and had annual earnings calculated to be as high as $3 billion."