In 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy confronted the fact that “the global war on drugs has failed.” This decades-long battle has had devastating consequences for individuals, local communities and societies around the world. Sadly, drug trafficking and addiction have only worsened. The time has come to re-evaluate the War on Drugs and change how we approach this heartbreaking problem.
What Is the War on Drugs?
In 1971, President Richard Nixon launched the War on Drugs in the United States. He saw drug use as the enemy and sought to make every drug illegal. For over 50 years, this international effort sought to eradicate the supply and demand for illicit substances, ranging from marijuana to crack cocaine.
Although the War on Drugs was meant to curb international drug trafficking and limit the possession and use of drugs within individual countries, efforts were often targeted at smaller drug dealers and individuals struggling with addiction. New measures throughout the 1980s and ’90s led to a dramatic increase in mass incarceration for nonviolent drug offenses, as policies focused more on criminal punishment over treatment.
Why We Need to Re-Evaluate the War on Drugs
Although the War on Drugs is still technically being waged, concerns over its effectiveness have now come to the forefront. It was launched with good intentions, but this 50-year-long battle has been linked to many unintended consequences.
Incentivizes Drug Trafficking
Most drugs cost pennies by the dose to produce. Yet, drug prohibition has incentivized the illegal trafficking of drugs by organized criminal groups who take on the risk and reap the rewards. These drug cartels in Latin America, Russia and Afghanistan obtain vast wealth from the illicit drug trade.
Perpetuates Violence in Latin America
Drug cartels use their resources to secure protection for their activities. Many of these groups, especially in Latin America, use their enormous wealth to engage in extreme violence that enforces their control, intimidates officials and silences rivals.
More Often Punishes Low-Level Offenders
In its zeal to make the nation drug-free, the United States criminalized both drug possession and use. As a result, prisons and jails are now engorged with the lowest-level participants in the drug trade and people struggling with addiction.
Disproportionately Impacts Minority Offenders
Those arrested and imprisoned for drug-related offenses in the U.S. are disproportionately African American. Yet, Black and white people consume illicit substances at similar rates.
Hinders People From Getting Help for Addiction
By the War on Drugs focusing on incarceration rather than evidence-based treatment and care, many people are afraid to ask for help for fear of encountering legal problems or prison.
How Other Countries Are Handing Addiction
Now, 50 years later, the War on Drugs is slowly ending. Both in the U.S. and abroad, most admit this strategy has failed. This era may be a momentous opportunity to reform drug policies in the U.S. and bring substantial benefits to both individuals and society.
Countries like Jamaica and Paraguay — and even the state of Oregon — are taking a different approach to this global crisis that takes power from the hands of drug cartels while promoting treatment over incarceration:
- Several drugs, including heroin, meth and oxycodone, have been decriminalized.
- Being caught with these substances results in a small fine rather than jail time.
- Those possessing drugs are given a mental health assessment, which could facilitate professional addiction treatment.
Find Compassionate Addiction Recovery Treatment
By society re-evaluating the War on Drugs, people who were previously unable to get help may receive the life-changing treatment they need. At Gateway Foundation, we’re committed to curbing America’s drug epidemic. For those who struggle with addiction, we provide support and evidence-based treatment programs individualized to your unique needs. Contact us today if you’re ready to find freedom in recovery.