A dollar's worth of drug treatment is worth seven dollars spent on the most successful law-enforcement efforts to curb the use of cocaine, researchers say in a new study.
The study by Rand, a California research organization that has worked closely with the federal government, was partly financed by the White House, which immediately rejected its main points.
The Rand study is the first to quantify the relative merits of treatment versus enforcement, an issue that has been long debated in the search for an effective anti-drug strategy.
The researchers say they do not advocate treatment to the exclusion of all other anti-drug efforts.
But they do advocate cutting 25 percent of the federal, state and local money spent on combating cocaine producers, traffickers and dealers and spending it instead on the treatment of drug abusers.
This, they said, would shrink the cocaine market, with its associated crime and violence, by one-third over 15 years.
Rand estimates that federal, state and local governments will spend nearly $13 billion this year to combat the importation, distribution and consumption of cocaine, which, it says, runs about 360 tons a year.
The researchers said the 25 percent shift of money to treatment from enforcement would increase the money available for treatment to $4 billion from $933 million.
They said that, for every $34 million allocated to treatment, cocaine consumption would be reduced by 1 percent, or a little more than 3 tons.
To achieve the same effect with enforcement, the study said, the government would have to spend $246 million on domestic law enforcement or $366 million on anti-smuggling programs or $783 million for anti-drug programs in countries where cocaine was produced.
The Rand researchers did not study the various forms of treatment programs or assess the merits of particular programs.
Rather, they made their projections by reviewing data on treatment and by calculating the decline in cocaine consumption while addicts were in rehabilitation programs and, afterward, for those who stayed off the drug.
Though the number of people using cocaine has steadily declined since the mid-1980s, the researchers say, total consumption is largely unchanged because the number of heavy users has increased.
The White House said it did not want to divert money to treatment programs from international and domestic law-enforcement efforts.
Rather, officials said, the Clinton administration is pursuing a "balanced approach," similar to that of the Bush administration in which pressure is applied on several fronts, with a minority share of spending going for treatment and prevention programs.