"Major drug bust hits dealers hard"
Local law enforcement and DEA publicize drug busts with substances and money on a table, showing products and cash "taken off the street." But incarceration and drug busts have not correlated with decreases in drug use or overdoses, or reductions in drug availability and price. Police often say, "We cannot arrest our way out of this epidemic." They are correct and should be held to their word.
The Tired Narrative:
News articles repeat unsubstantiated claims made by police departments, district attorneys, and local prosecutors that "raids" and busts disrupted the drug local supply. Local news, in particular, promotes local law enforcement with pictures of cash, drugs, firearms spread on a table.
The takeaway is that lengthy and expensive police investigations are effective responses to matters of public health, like substance use disorder and overdose deaths.
Words like "bust," "raid," and "trafficking ring," are often used to connote a large operation has just unraveled. Without evidence or follow-up, these "busts" are promoted as a net-positive for the community.
The Informed Narrative:
Drug policy research consistently shows that disrupting local supply chains has, at best, marginal effects on a community's drug supply. After a "big raid" is promoted, local journalists could learn a lot by talking to users in the area about their consumption patterns, and learn whether the raid had any impact.
Moreover, when local supply-chains are disrupted, new products of unknown potency inevitably hit the market, which could have the unintended effect of a spike in overdoses.
Instead of repeating unsubstantiated claims made by local police and prosecutors, journalists can report the other side of the story, uncovering the real effect raids have on the community.
Connect with Expert Sources:
Leo Beletsky, Northeastern University, Health In Justice Action Lab
Tracie Gardner, Vice President of Policy Advocacy Legal Action Center