Law enforcement and Australia’s 2001 heroin shortage

Evaluating the evidence
Kora DeBeck & Evan Wood
International Journal of Drug Policy 19 (2008) 287–290
February 2008

Globally, illicit drug policy is largely based on two central policy objectives. The first is to reduce the demand for illegal drugs mainly through criminalisation, drug prevention and treatment, and the second is to reduce the supply of illegal drugs primarily through law enforcement initiatives. Supply reduction generally involves targeting the production and distribution of illegal drugs through crop eradication in drug producing countries, extensive boarder control and interdiction systems, and dismantling local and international drug distribution networks. These supply reduction measures have been found to receive the overwhelming majority of drug policy funds.

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However, the effort to promote government accountability has increased pressures on policy-makers to justify policy investments and provide scientific-based evidence in support of policy decisions. In the case of funding for supply reduction efforts, this has been difficult to accomplish. Rather, monitoring data on the price and availability of illegal drugs has long indicated that law enforcement is failing to achieve its supply reduction objectives. The lack of empirical evidence supporting the effectiveness of law enforcement-based policies is widely acknowledged. Beginning in early 2001 Australia experienced a severe heroin shortage and various investigations have examined the potential impact of law enforcement as a potential explanation.