The United States War of Drugs

Initiative to stop the use, distribution, and selling of illicit drugs by increasing and enforcing the penalties associated with it. However, the war on drugs goes back to the 1800s when drugs first surfaced the United States. After the American Civil War opium became very popular and cocaine followed in the 1880’s. Morphine, heroin and cocaine were used for medicinal purposes and seen as health remedies (War on Drugs.

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, 2008). With the turn of the century, there became a heightened concern for these psychotropic drugs to have great potential for causing addiction.

By the end of the 19th century, the abuse of cocaine and opium were at an all-time high epidemic.

At this time, the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act was created and this required all physicians to accurately label their medicines. This was the start when drugs were no longer seen as health remedies and now were harmful to the body and self (War on Drugs., 2008). Soon shortly after, the Harrison’s Narcotics Act of 1914 passed and this prohibited the manufacture and sale of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and morphine.

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These laws were strictly enforced and any physicians caught making or prescribing these drugs were heavily fined or even jailed. The punishments were so severe that parole was offered to first time offenders and you could be given the death penalty if you were caught selling heroin to a minor.

The Federal Bureau of Narcotics used propaganda as a preventative measure but was not successful. They stated that the use of marijuana had extreme side effects that most people did not believe because of how outrageous and bizarre it sounded (War on Drugs., 2008). The Modern War on Drugs was announced by President Nixon in 1971. This created the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1973 (War on Drugs., 2008). In 1977, President Carter announced the decriminalization of marijuana because he felt that the penalties against the drug should not be more damaging than the drug itself. However, the use of cocaine increases tremendously during that time when Carter wanted to decriminalize marijuana that it became such an issue that the federal and states government moved away from decriminalizing marijuana.

Education, prevention and rehabilitation seemed to be a focus in the eyes of the President Reagan during this time. President Clinton made the most effort in using spending for prevention, education and rehabilitation (War on Drugs., 2008). This war has been ongoing for almost 25 years and it is a question of is this a war that the United States can win? The War on Drugs affects any population within the United States at different levels. The intention of this policy is to decrease drug use and sale in the United States. The policy affects drug users, drug manufacturers, drug sellers, children of drug abusers, family members of drug abusers, and the list can go on. It is said that for every single person addicted to drugs, nearly five other individuals are negatively impacted on a social, emotional, financial or physical level.

That is a fairly high number for individuals to be impacted by one person’s drug use. Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disease of the brain. Addiction is an issue that affects all different levels of society from the individual itself to the family as a whole unit (Lander et. al, 2013). One of the biggest issues that the War on Drugs dismisses is that problem with addiction and our societies perceived notion of it. A lot of members of society that are on the outside looking in on addiction and who it affects are not clear on what addiction truly means. Addiction is not something that someone chooses to have in life. Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disease of the brain. Addiction as a chronic, relapsing disease of the brain is a totally new concept for much of the general public, for many policymakers, and, sadly, for many health care professionals.

Addiction is an issue that affects all different levels of society from the individual itself to the family as a whole (Lander et. al, 2013). Once society views addiction as a disease rather than a choice, that is when real changes and the bigger picture to the drug epidemic will be noticed and viewed with the right perception. It is a tough pill to swallow for those on the outside looking in because they have never experience addiction themselves or even as a third party of a family member or friend who has experienced addiction. However, when addiction does affect an individual, it is said to affect at least five other individuals who are connected to that one person. The effect may be emotional, physical, financial, or anything imaginable.

When talking about addiction affecting several different people, it is important to note that addiction cannot be pinpointed to any specific population. Addiction is a disease of the brain that can affect anyone at any time and that is truly frightening. Addiction can affect any and all races, genders, ages, ethnicities, etc. The issue with addiction affecting so many possible populations, the treatment for addiction sadly is not fair or available for all of those fighting addiction. This is where the War on Drugs and the policies behind it come play and need to be addressed and changed. At the policy level, understanding the importance of drug use and addiction for both the health of individuals and the health of the public affects many of our overall public health strategies.

An accurate understanding of the nature of drug abuse and addiction should also affect our criminal justice strategies. On a daily basis we see hundreds, maybe thousands, of individuals picked up each day and taken to jail on a drug charge. Putting an individual in jail that is addicted to a drug is equivalent to putting an individual with a psychiatric disorder into jail. Each of these individuals need specific facilities to go to and neither are jail or prison. An individual who is being charged with drug crimes are those who need to seek treatment and help to lessen the drug usage out in the world. It is a simple solution. Individuals who are addicted to drugs need the proper treatment and recovery services in order to fight the disease.

Putting an individual into jail for a few days, weeks, months, at a time will just cycle back out into the environment where they were prior to going to jail and relapse and start the process all over. However, if we incorporate some treatment and recovery services within the justice system them the recidivism rate would be reduced. A study developed by Matthew L. Hiller, Kevin Knight, D. Dwayne Simpson examined prison-based substance abuse treatments, residential aftercare and recidivism rates. The study was conducted of 396 male participants, with 293 being treated and 103 were untreated participants. This was a 9-month study that was conducted within the prison and ratings were made by the participants themselves, their counselors, program and peers.

Hiller, Knight and Simpson were able to find that with the in-prison treatment care followed with residential aftercare, post-release recidivism rates were reduced compared to those untreated as well as those who only received in-prison treatment care (Hiller, M. L., Knight, K., & Simpson, D. D. (1999). It is therefore counterproductive to not treat addicts while they are in prison. If we are able to reduce the number of individuals using drugs by incorporating in-prison treatment centers, then the United States can begin to decrease the amount of spending they use to fight this War on Drugs. This seems like an easy solution but yet, it has not been incorporated into every prison system throughout the country. At this time there are numerous amounts of studies and experiments going on within the prison system to study the effects of in-prison treatment for drug addicts and that seems to be heading in the right direction.

According to Morris Hoffman, drug courts don’t work and he has examined four serious consequences caused from the drug courts. Hoffman states that there is a massive increase in drug filings, we are sending more drug defendants to prison, we are sending the wrong drug defendants to prison, and we are eliminating the central criminal concept of guilt through the drug court system. Since drug court came to Denver, the number of drug cases has tripled in two years. From the moment that Denver created the drug court system, the percentage of drug cases exploded from 27.8% immediately before the drug court to 51.6% immediately after. The presence of drug court has caused police to make arrests and prosecutors to file.

Ever since the drug court was implemented, it has been sending more drug defendants to prison than ever. The drug court is sending more drug defendants to prison but they are also sending the wrong drug defendants to prisons. The problem with the drug court system is that there are very few that believe and understand that drug addiction is a brain disease rather than a voluntary act of possessing drugs. If society and policy makers understood and realized that drug addiction is a disease, then drug possession would not be a crime but rather an alert that this person may need some treatment and help and hopefully we can help guide them in the right direction rather than throw them in jails.

The problem that we face in the courts with judges sentencing is that they are sending defendants to jail not for using drugs but simply not complying with our efforts to treatment. However, what many of us turn a blind eye to is that not all individuals are the same and not all treatments are going to work for each drug user. There needs to be assessments completed thoroughly to find the correct and effective treatment for each drug addicted individual. (Hoffman, M., 2001).

On the topic of drug courts and criminalizing drug users it is important to note the effects on a family when punishment and penalties are given to drug users who are parents. The issue with parents who are drug abusers have high effects on their children and those are issues that need to be addressed as well. The use of drug courts for those who are parents is not something that is helping the family in the long run or helping at any point. Criminalizing drug users in general is inhumane but those drug users who are parents and have children to care for at home are prime examples of why individuals addicted to drugs need to receive treatment and stabilization in order to care for their families and self.

Cite this page

The United States War of Drugs. (2022, Jan 08). Retrieved from

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