May 17, 2013

Measuring Crack Cocaine and its Impact

One problems to study the causes of violence in Latin America is the lack of data on drug activity. For example, we do not know how much of the violence is caused by conflict among drug cartels.  

In a new paper Fryer et al (Economic Inquiry, July 2013. A draft - 2006 - is here) argue: 
Numerous social indicators turned negative for Blacks in the 1980s and rebounded a decade later. We explore whether crack cocaine explains these patterns. Absent a direct measure, we construct a crack prevalence index using multiple proxies. Our index reproduces spatial and temporal patterns described in ethnographic accounts of the crack epidemic. It explains much of the 1980s rise in Black youth homicide and more moderate increases in adverse birth outcomes. Although our index remains high through the 1990s, crack's deleterious social impact fades. Changes over time in behavior, crack markets, and the user population may have mitigated crack's damaging impacts.
Although, clearly, the paper does not address the effect of violence caused by conflict among drug cartels, methodologically, the idea of the index can be very useful to analyze violence in Latin America. 

The index in the paper:
. . . we construct an index based on a range of indirect proxies (cocaine arrests, cocaine-related emergency room visits, cocaine-induced drug deaths, crack mentions in newspapers, and DEA drug busts). . .
The findings 
We find that our measure of crack can explain much of the rise in Black youth homicides, as well as more moderate increases in a wide range of adverse birth outcomes for Blacks in the 1980s. . . 
Although our crack index remains high through the 1990s, the deleterious social impact of crack fades. One interpretation of this result is that changes over time in behavior, crack markets, and the crack using population mitigated the damaging impacts of crack. Our analysis suggests that the greatest social costs of crack have been associated with the prohibition-related violence, rather than drug use per se.

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