Program provides strategies for drug warWEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A new computer program developed at Purdue University may help government officials wage the war on drugs.
The computer simulation represents the interaction between the funding levels of U.S. anti-drug efforts and drug production and trafficking in Peru, Colombia and Bolivia.
"This is the first computer model that relates government decisions to output from the drug industry," says Maj. Steven Hutchison, a 16-year U.S. Army veteran who developed the program with his academic advisers as his doctoral dissertation in industrial engineering. He graduated from Purdue in May.
"In running this simulation, we found some pretty strong conclusions about where we should be spending our money and in which anti-drug programs. The historical data shows where we've been funding programs, and the model shows where we ought to be, and the two aren't the same," he says.
The program models how funding levels for three anti-drug policies -- law enforcement, development of alternative crops and eradication efforts -- affect the cultivation of the coca plant and the production of cocaine in Peru, Colombia and Bolivia.
The program simulates the decision-making process of determining how much to spend on which effort and in which country. Given a dollar amount, $100 million for example, the program runs 32 different funding schemes and comes up with the one that results in the least amount of cocaine getting out of the three countries over a 10-year period.
"It's an output minimizer for cocaine production," Hutchison says. "According to the model, the current best policy is to spend more resources in Bolivia and Peru in law enforcement while keeping eradication efforts high, moving the emphasis away from alternative development programs.
"For many years, we've been spending a lot of money in alternative development programs, but the model says pretty clearly that the best thing to do is focus on disrupting the connections between suppliers and producers."
Hutchison says the United States spends about $150 million each year on anti-drug programs in the three South American countries. He used his computer simulation to analyze 32 different schemes under three different funding scenarios that each spent the same amount of money over a 10-year period. In the first scenario, the United States spends the same amount of money each year, $150 million. In the second scenario, funding starts at $200 million and drops to $100 million over 10 years. The third starts with $100 million and increases to $200 million.
"We found that the increasing-resources scenario, combined with the emphasis on Bolivia and Peru, has a pretty good effect on the system," Hutchison says. "By the end of the 10-year period, you can pretty well wipe out production in Peru, and do pretty well in terms of output from Colombia. Bolivia tends to stay fairly constant."
The simulation takes into account the trade-offs involved in the system -- spending more money in one program reduces the amount available for other programs, for example. It also incorporates the complexity of how the drug industry responds to interventions, such as the effect law enforcement has on the pricing system for coca leaf, from which the cocaine alkaloid is extracted. That pricing information then feeds back into the model for alternative development programs.
Hutchison says it's pretty easy to adjust the computer program based on changes in the actual system. For example, if the pricing structure changes because of anti-drug efforts, that data can be incorporated into the simulation and the program can be rerun.
Tom Sparrow, professor of industrial engineering and one of Hutchison's advisers, says the program could be a tool to aid government decision-makers who are considering expenditures.
"This program will give them some idea of what they can expect in terms of reductions of cocaine production in these countries," Sparrow says.
The simulation is available now for agencies to use and can be run on any Windows-based PC.
Hutchison has offered his program to several government offices, including the Institute for Defense Analyses, the State Department, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He says he has received favorable comments from the institute, and is expecting feedback from the others.
Sparrow and Paul Preckel, professor of agricultural economics and one of Hutchison's advisers, have submitted a grant proposal to the U.S. Agency for International Development to continue research on the project.
Hutchison says refinements could model how seasonal changes affect coca cultivation on a yearly basis, which would aid in breaking down the planning process to less than a year.
In July, Hutchison will begin working at the Army's Operational Testing and Evaluation Command Headquarters in Alexandria, Va., where he will conduct military operations research.
Sources: Frederick "Tom" Sparrow, (765) 494-7043; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A 25-page summary describing Steven Hutchison's computer simulation is available from Amanda Siegfried, Purdue News Service, (765) 494-4709.