International Journal of Drug Policy

The Policymaker’s Hippocratic Oath

Summary: In an article published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, Vanda Felbab-Brown responds to and endorses the harm-reduction assessment approach to supply-side counternarcotics policies.

Felbab-Brown argues that such a careful and comprehensive cost-benefit analysis should be the basis for any public policy, be it in the field of drug control or international maritime security. She points out, however, the difficulties in operationalizing such a cost-benefit analysis, including establishing baselines, correctly assessing the range of possible policy outcomes, aggregating the various costs/harms and benefits, and establishing analytical or value systems for trading them off against each other. Such difficulties notwithstanding, a systematic cost-benefit analysis “at least clearly specifies the assumptions underlying the posited good and bad outcomes. It thus provides a far more rational basis for correcting a policy or staying the course.”

The article draws on examples from the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, coca eradication policies in Latin America, and U.S. efforts to promote democracy to explore the difficulties of making such cost-benefit assessments.

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