Costs of Drug Prohibition

Paul H. Rubin —  31 March 2011

I have been thinking about a story that appeared in the Times a few days ago.  States are considering requiring medical prescriptions for over-the-counter cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine, an ingredient for making methamphetamine.  Mississippi and Oregon already have such laws, and other states are considering them, although they have been voted down in other jurisdictions.  It is already difficult to buy medicines with this ingredient; you have to get it from the pharmacist and must sign for it.  These medicines are no longer available on the shelf.

Many doctors specializing in pain management under-prescribe because of a fear of the DEA. Some have even been criminally prosecuted.  Libertarians have made many arguments about drug legalization, such as the financial costs of prohibition.  Maybe another argument would be to point out how our drug laws are impacting the health and welfare of normal individuals who may suffer from difficulty in obtaining needed medication

Paul H. Rubin


PAUL H. RUBIN is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Economics at Emory University in Atlanta and formerly editor in chief of Managerial and Decision Economics. He blogs at Truth on the Market. He was President of the Southern Economic Association in 2013. He is a Fellow of the Public Choice Society and is associated with the Technology Policy Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Independent Institute. Dr. Rubin has been a Senior Economist at President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers, Chief Economist at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Director of Advertising Economics at the Federal Trade Commission, and vice-president of Glassman-Oliver Economic Consultants, Inc., a litigation consulting firm in Washington. He has taught economics at the University of Georgia, City University of New York, VPI, and George Washington University Law School. Dr. Rubin has written or edited eleven books, and published over two hundred and fifty articles and chapters on economics, law, regulation, and evolution in journals including the American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Legal Studies, and the Journal of Law and Economics, and he frequently contributes to the Wall Street Journal and other leading newspapers. His work has been cited in the professional literature over 8000 times. Books include Managing Business Transactions, Free Press, 1990, Tort Reform by Contract, AEI, 1993, Privacy and the Commercial Use of Personal Information, Kluwer, 2001, (with Thomas Lenard), Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origin of Freedom, Rutgers University Press, 2002, and Economics, Law and Individual Rights, Routledge, 2008 (edited, with Hugo Mialon). He has consulted widely on litigation related matters and has been an adviser to the Congressional Budget Office on tort reform. He has addressed numerous business, professional, policy, government and academic audiences. Dr. Rubin received his B.A. from the University of Cincinnati in 1963 and his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 1970.

4 responses to Costs of Drug Prohibition


    I’m a physician who believes that only one class of drugs should require a prescription: broad-spectrum antibiotics (because misuse of antibiotics leads to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, a significant public health problem). Everything else should be available without a prescription, including opiates, stimulants, tranquilizers, sedatives, etc. Many nations have such policies without catastrophic consequences.


    I opposed the decriminalization of Meth.

    That would lower the price and increase demand.

    How many more meth users do we need?

    Is there no limit?

    Markets run amok.

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