Ending The War On Addiction

Between the deep stigma and stereotyping of addiction and the ongoing criminalization of drug addiction, there is a deep misunderstanding of the conditions which cause addiction. Depending on who you talk to Addiction can be the result of poor choices and loose morals or it can be a disease like diabetes which the person has little control over.

The truth, as always is somewhere in the middle.

The solution is not a total abandonment of law enforcement as was recently seen with the passage of legislation in Oregon, nor is handing the individual another drug and hoping for the best. The only real solution to the problem is to provide workable solutions for those who are already addicted and widespread drug education campaigns to prevent users from starting.

All of that can be done, but it’s going to take the American people, the American culture even, to change how it looks at addiction.

The Failure of the War on Drugs—Why We Need a New Movement for Ending Addiction in America

Arrest for Drug Smuggling
The failure of the War on Drugs. Photo credit: vladans/iStock by Getty

The War on Drugs began in 1971 when President Nixon declared that the United States was going to war against its growing drug problem. The war started with a tough-on-crime policy agenda that utterly failed to produce results. Here are some of the results that the agenda did produce, however:

Every 25 seconds, someone in the United States is arrested for drug possession. The number of Americans arrested each year has tripled since 1980, reaching more than one million arrests each year. At this point, six times as many people are arrested for having drugs on them than for selling drugs to others.

“Every 25 seconds, someone in the United States is arrested
for drug possession.”

Even though drug offenders are incarcerated by the hundreds of thousands each year, there is evidence that jail time has little to no impact on reducing substance abuse rates for those incarcerated. However, incarceration has been linked to an increased likelihood of mortality from overdose. For example, in the first two weeks after release from prison, individuals who served sentences for drug-related offenses are almost 13 times more likely to die from a drug overdose than the general population. Jail time does not help drug offenders with their drug problems, not if they are at such high risk for drug overdose immediately after being released.

Man arrested
Photo by Motortion/iStock by Getty

The War on Drugs has also had another, very sinister result, i.e., the racial implications of the program’s policies and agendas. For example, even though black Americans only comprise about 12.5 percent of the drug-using population in America, they make up 30 percent of all drug-related arrests. Black Americans, compared with whites, are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana charges. And even though black Americans use drugs at an equal rate to whites, they are six times more likely to be incarcerated for drug-related offenses than whites. A black defendant convicted of a drug offense will serve about the same length sentence in the federal system as a white defendant will for a violent crime.

The economic impact alone from the war on drugs is enough to reconsider whether or not this campaign is worthwhile (especially given the poor results it has produced). Since 1971, the United States’ cost of the war on drugs is an estimated $1 trillion. The federal government spends around $9.2 million per day incarcerating people for drug-related offenses, rather than treating them for their drug use.

On the state level, the war’s economic impact is felt among taxpayers and drug offenders alike. For example, Georgia spent $78.6 million in 2015 to incarcerate people of color for drug offenses. Just that cost alone was 1.6 times higher than the state budget for substance abuse treatment services.

It is clear that not only is the war on drugs ineffective in actually curbing the drug problem, but it is harmful to those who are not even affected by drug use, simply because the war on drugs is expensive for taxpayers. What if those taxpayer dollars went to funding effective addiction treatment services instead?

Ultimately, the War on Drugs failed because it sought to focus almost exclusively on the supply side of the drug problem, not the demand for drugs. As long as there has been a demand for drugs in the U.S., there has been a drug problem. The full might of the law enforcement efforts of the most powerful country in the world has not been able to stop drug trafficking, drug possession, and drug sales in this country, not as long as there is a demand for such substances.

Going forward, the movement that must be created to end addiction in America is one that demands addicts get the help they need, that treatment is made available for all who struggle with drug addiction.

Addiction Treatment—The Real Movement for Effecting Positive Change in America’s Drug Crisis

Imagine if every 25 seconds, a drug-possessing individual was sent to a treatment center rather than arrested? How much different would the drug crisis in America look if drug users were treated with effective rehabilitation rather than jailed?

“We’ve gotten so used to the idea that this is normal to arrest so many people for tiny amounts of drugs, but it’s not normal.”

From Joseph E. Kennedy, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, “We’ve gotten so used to the idea that this is normal to arrest so many people for tiny amounts of drugs, but it’s not normal.” Kennedy’s words ring true because it genuinely isn’t normal to punish people for a problem that is not a criminal inclination but a severe crisis of the mind and body.

The real movement to ending addiction in America begins when the American people decide it’s time to treat addicts, not jail them.

Stop Stigmatizing Drug Addicts, Seek to Help Them Get Better Instead

The stereotypes and the stigmas that surround addiction have, in many ways, made Americans blind to the plight of drug addicts and alcohol addicts. That’s why addiction is not treated like a serious affliction and personal crisis, which it very much is. Instead, addiction is treated like a criminal inclination, which it is not.

That has to change. If you know someone struggling with an addiction to drugs and alcohol, please do everything you can to get them help at a qualified rehab center. Don’t let your loved one’s drug habit result in their ostracization, incarceration, or general dismissal from society. Contact Narconon today to take the first step in helping your loved one get better.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.