Mathematical Model Studies Cost-Effectiveness of School-Based Cocaine Prevention Compared to Treatment and Enforcement

Investigators at RAND Corporation used mathematical modeling to estimate the cost effectiveness of school-based cocaine prevention programs compared with other broad categories of drug control.

The investigators examined the results of two school-based prevention programs that research has shown to be effective.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) national Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP).

Key Findings

The investigators reported their findings in a book, An Ounce of Prevention, a Pound of Uncertainty: The Cost-Effectiveness of School-Based Drug Prevention Programs:

  • School-based prevention can reduce lifetime cocaine consumption by 2 to 11 percent. Although these effects are small, prevention programs are inexpensive and are therefore more cost-effective than many enforcement strategies.
  • Cocaine treatment, however, appears more cost-effective than either prevention or enforcement.
  • School-based prevention programs have significant benefits that extend beyond the prevention of cocaine abuse. These benefits include:
    • Reductions in cigarette and alcohol consumption.
    • A spillover effect in which people not in the prevention program also reduce their drug use.
  • Although school-based prevention exhibits a respectable level of cost-effectiveness, an overwhelming investment in the prevention component of cocaine control compared with other cocaine-control strategies may not be justified.