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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Did "Just Say No" work?

I believe economic theory would predict that, on net, as your income increases the individual demand for illegal drugs declines. This is clearly not the case for everyone, and even if your demand for illegal drugs declines your demand for legal drugs might well increase. However, the alcohol and cigarette literatures consistently show that those products tend to be inferior and I wouldn't be surprised if illegal drugs had the same pattern.

Here's a time trend of positive drug testing in the U.S. workforce by Quest



One explanation is that drugs are an inferior good and therefore the general prosperity of the 1990s and 2000s contributed to the decline in positive tests in the U.S. work force. However, the sharp decline also coincides with the "Just Say No" crowd coming of age and a general level of prosperity that might have naturally reduced drug use (at least amongst the workforce). Moreover, testing become more common during the time period and that might well have had a deterrence effect.

Someone might have written this paper already, but I don't remember seing a paper that specifically investigates whether my generation's experience with "Just Say No" is the primary reason for the sharp decline in drug use in the workforce. Again, I might have missed that one, and if I have I apologize.

Teasing out which was more important - income, "Just Say No," or switching to legal drugs - would make an interesting paper.

Remember to cite early and cite often.

Here are a lot more pictures including some very interesting U.S. graphs, such as this one depicting the proportion of the work force testing positive for PCP. What's going on the Houston area?

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