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Are there Unintended Consequences of Alcohol and Tobacco Policies on College Campuses?

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Project Summary:

Substance use among American college students is significantly higher than similarly aged young adults from the general population. In this research we examine why drug use is so prevalent among this key segment of the population and try to determine which policies are the most effective at discouraging their use. This research will extend the work initiated by Chaloupka and Wechsler by (1) examining the determinants of demand for three popular illicit substances: marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, (2) examining the factors that contribute to polysubstance use, or the use of multiple substances within a specific period, and (3) determining the relationship between the demand for legal substances and illegal substances. Data from the 1993 and 1997 Harvard College Alcohol Surveys will be merged with local and state policy measures to evaluate the effect of specific policies on the decision to use marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Dichotomous choice models that control for individual and school characteristics, local environment, prices, and state and local control policies will be used to estimate the likelihood that an individual decides to use each of these substances in the previous thirty days and in the past year. It will therefore be possible to identify the key determinants of demand for each of these substances. Separate analyses by race and gender will also be conducted to identify differential influences on the decision to use. Particular attention will be paid to the sign and significance of own- and cross-price effects so that it will be possible to determine whether particular substances are economic substitutes or complements. Bivariate and multinominal estimation techniques will be employed to examine the decision to currently use multiple substances. This separate analysis will enable us to determine if, for example, a student that currently uses alcohol and marijuana reacts differently to an increase in the price of beer than a student who only drinks alcohol. These differences in responses are particularly important for trying to determine the true nature of the demands for these substances and whether particular policies will be effective at discouraging overall substance use and abuse. Findings from this project will be useful for directing policy in a number of significant ways. First, this study will identify existing policies and environmental factors that are effective at discouraging the use of illicit drugs, and thus the harmful consequences associated with their use, in college populations. Second, it will inform policy makers of the impact changes in illicit drug prices and availability have on the use of illicit substances. This information is needed if we are to have a scientific debate regarding the decriminalization or legalization of particular substances. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this study will inform policy makers on the complicated relationship between the demands for legal and illegal substances. In particular, this study will be able to determine whether tighter restrictions on alcohol and tobacco have had the unintended consequence of encouraging illicit substance use or if they have in fact indirectly discouraged the use of illicit substances.

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