In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Drug Control

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Unintended Consequences of Drug Control

Criminology Drug Control
Martin Bouchard, Morena Anamali
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0129


A number of psychoactive substances such as cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines have been defined as illegal by the vast majority of countries around the world. As such, they are subject to a varying degree of legal control. Yet, defining drug control solely in legal terms would miss the vast amount of programs and individuals outside of law enforcement working to reduce drug use and drug harms, such as clinicians, street outreach workers, and schoolteachers. The actual programs to consider may thus take many forms, just as many forms as the diversity of markets and participants subject to these controls. Pure strategies of drug law enforcement that focus on drug suppliers need to be considered alongside harm reduction, drug use treatment, or school-based prevention programs. Drug control refers to the full array of interventions aimed at reducing the size of illegal drug markets, and the harms caused by illegal drugs. Whether any of the actual interventions falling under the umbrella of drug control succeed in doing so is another question entirely, one that should be subject to empirical research and evaluation. Illegal drugs, like any (legal) consumption products, are sold in “markets.” The illegal context, however, has unique consequences on market structure and behavior that need to be taken into account both by researchers and drug control agents. An important aspect of drugs being sold in markets is the presence of demand for drugs that may not be affected by interventions aimed strictly at suppliers. This situation may indirectly stimulate a replacement process for drugs and suppliers that are removed from a given market. The lack of an immediate victim (i.e., a victim in the sense understood for predatory crimes) creates a situation in which law enforcement agencies have considerable discretion in enforcing drug laws, making drug control an especially important area for research in criminology. Drug enforcement should not be viewed and researched separately from drug markets and their participants. Both the police and drug market participants adapt their strategies to the other—the police in designing interventions that are effectively modeled on actual drug market patterns and behaviors, and drug market participants in anticipating and avoiding those interventions through counterdeterrence measures. In the face of the relative failure of pure law enforcement strategies to reduce the harms associated with (certain) illegal drugs, harm reduction programs and alternatives to prohibition need to be considered seriously.

General Overviews

One of the best overview of the drug control literature has been conducted in MacCoun and Reuter 2001, which goes through the whole spectrum of ideological views and theories of drug control, focused as much on the demand as on the supply side. The more recent Babor, et al. 2010 provides an even more exhaustive review of policy options available and what we know about their effectiveness. Musto 1999 is a well-known classic of the genre, focusing on the history of the drug control and drug epidemics, while Zimring and Hawkins 1995 provides a clear and concise idea of the drug control debate. Kleiman 1992, a detailed book on drug policy, gives recommendations that are sensitive to variations in drug-related harms. Taking stock of two decades of research evaluation of drug law enforcement, Mazerolle, et al. 2007 is a systematic review that provides a guide both to researchers and practitioners trying to make sense of what works. Finally, Caulkins 2000 is a useful guide for current and future drug market researchers, focused as much on describing the type of data that are available and their limitations as on the type of informative quantitative analyses that may be derived from them.

  • Babor, Thomas F., Jonathan Caulkins, Griffith Edwards, et al. 2010. Drug policy and the public good. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An excellent, extensive review of the drug policy and drug control literature, examining the effectiveness of several policy options. The authors conclude that few of the demonstrated effective policy options are actually used by governments. The place to start to take an up-to-date overview of the field, where it has been, and where it should go.

  • Caulkins, Jonathan P. 2000. Measurement and analysis of drug problems and drug control efforts. In Criminal justice. Vol. 4, Measurement and analysis of crime and justice. Edited by National Institute of Justice, 391–449. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.

    An overview of the quantitative data and methods available for research on drug issues, with discussions of limitations. A good starting point for any new researcher to the field.

  • Kleiman, Mark A. R. 1992. Against excess: Drug policy for results. New York: Basic Books.

    Provides a blueprint for concrete drug control actions that increases access to treatment and controls while relying less on pure policing tools such as arrests. Policy recommendations distinguish marijuana from other drugs.

  • MacCoun, Robert J., and Peter Reuter. 2001. Drug war heresies: Learning from other vices, times, and places. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511754272

    This book is meant to inform American drug policy by examining the whole spectrum of existing drug control theories and policies, demand and supply side included. The authors analyze original and secondary data, starting from the United States but moving toward other countries. The authors provide guidelines to analyze the harms caused by different drugs and policies.

  • Mazerolle, Lorraine, David W. Soole, and Sacha Rombouts. 2007. Drug law enforcement: A review of the evaluation literature. Police Quarterly 10.2: 115–153.

    DOI: 10.1177/1098611106287776

    A review of what works in drug law enforcement, organized in five categories: international/national interventions, reactive/directed interventions, proactive/partnership interventions, individualized interventions, and interventions that use a combination of reactive/directed and proactive/partnership strategies. Proactive interventions involving partnerships between the police and third parties are found to be the most effective. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Musto, David F. 1999. The American disease: Origins of narcotic control. 3d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A classic historical analysis of drug policy and drug epidemics in the United States, the third edition discusses contemporary drug policy.

  • Zimring, Franklin E., and Gordon Hawkins. 1995. The search for rational drug control. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A look at the drug policy process and the national drug control strategy in the United States, with critiques and recommendations in the final chapter.

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