By Kyle Shahenian, Contributing Writer
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Before I forget, I do not promote the use of any of the illegal substances mentioned in this article. My purpose here is to educate.
In 1971, United States President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy number one.” The War on Drugs has resulted in a wide array of consequences, most notably, billions of wasted taxpayer dollars, racial injustice, and the failure to reduce drug flow in and around the US. The US attempted to combat the illegal drug trade by putting policies in place that would discourage the production, distribution, and consumption of drugs. If you pay taxes, it’s very likely that your tax dollars have been fueling yet another endless war and are being wasted. This is due to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which has an efficiency rate of less than 1% when it comes to keeping drugs from entering and flowing around the US. I have researched extensively on some of the main reasons why the war on drugs has failed and why the US needs to adopt a new approach to this issue.
It’s no secret that the War on Drugs has cost taxpayers billions of dollars every year. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, “federal and state governments have poured over one trillion dollars over the past four decades on the drug war and relied on taxpayers to foot the bill” (Make). One. Trillion. Dollars. All that money could be, and should be, allocated to other areas. A study done by the Cato Institute shows that legalizing drugs would save the US around $41 billion dollars every year. If you call yourself a patriot, you would probably like to see all that money being allocated to areas that desperately need or lack government funding such as education.
Let’s take a look at how the War on Drugs has failed minority groups more than anyone.
The War on Drugs disproportionately targets minority groups. The United States only has 5% of the world’s population, but it has 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. A large portion of those arrested are in for non-violent drug offenses. “A Pew study says it costs the U.S. an average of $30,000 a year to incarcerate an inmate” (Branson). That same study found that the nation spends only an average of $11,665 per public school student. In the years 2010-2016, an average of 82.8% of all drug law violation arrests were for possession only. Mass incarceration destroys families: According to the Drug Policy Alliance, one in nine black children have a parent who is incarcerated for drug offenses, which is astonishing when compared to one in 28 latino children and one in 57 white children.
It’s no secret that prohibition doesn’t stop people from using drugs, and the War on Drugs is no exception. As I mentioned before, the efficiency rate of the DEA when it comes to stopping the flow of drugs is less than 1%. The reason the efficiency rate is so low is because “The government can’t keep up with the gigantic and fast-paced black market for drugs in the U.S. Even when law enforcement apprehend one end of the drug supply-chain, another drug gang or cartel will just step in and take over” (Kagel). Drugs will be consumed no matter what they cost, so the key for these gangs and cartels was to increase availability so in the event that a supply line is compromised, the drugs would still be available to the user. The DEA and their hardline policies are obviously not helping reduce the illegal drug trade in the grand scheme of things, so why should the U.S. keep allocating money to this failed initiative?
Now that I have covered a few of the reasons why this war has failed, I’m going to talk about another method of dealing with drugs, harm reduction.
Switzerland’s harm reduction approach works. After a massive HIV-AIDS epidemic in the 1980s related to heroin, Swiss authorities decided to take a new approach. Heroin maintenance centers opened up where addicts would be treated and given a safe environment to inject heroin of high quality. Ruth Dreifuss, a former Swiss president and interior minister, was an advocate for this type of method. He believed in extending a friendy hand to drug addicts and to bring them out of the shadows. Keep in mind that drug production, distribution and consumption still remains illegal throughout Switzerland. Now any reasonable person would probably object to the idea of centers where addicts could shoot up heroin, but when you examine the data, Switzerland’s approach is working better than the US approach. Implementing harm reduction led to major slashes in HIV rates and death from heroin overdoses. Statistics show that “the number of drug IV users with HIV has been reduced by 50 per cent and so has the overdose mortality among IV users” (Spanswick). Sex work and street crime have also been reduced enormously. Around 70% of opiate and cocaine users do receive treatment, and ⅔ of them do have regular jobs. This method has proved to be less expensive and more effective than the current hardline policy that the US currently adopts.
I believe the War on Drugs is a huge failure. It is time for the US to try a different approach. The War on Drugs has resulted in billions of wasted taxpayer dollars, racial injustice, and the failure of stopping drug flow in the US. After 40+ years of fighting, it’s time to end the War on Drugs and move on to something better suited for our time and money.