Recent Successes of the War on Drugs

The hard truth is that the War on Drugs has achieved no recent successes. With an overall goal of interrupting supplies and thereby increasing the price and decreasing the availability of illegal substances, the “drug epidemic” in the US could be effectively mitigated. However, the evidence indicates that the War on Drugs has in actuality improved the availability of drugs while driving down prices.

Early History of the “War”

Prior to the 1970s, the nation’s policymakers saw drug abuse mainly as a social disease that could be addressed with treatment. But after this time, drug abuse was viewed as a law enforcement issue that could be handled with aggressive criminal justice laws. Labeled “Public Enemy Number One” in a 1971 speech by President Nixon, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 was the formal declaration of “war” on drugs. The soldiers to fight this war came with the official addition of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to the country’s law enforcement community.

Fast-forward more than 4 decades and it becomes rapidly apparent that Public Enemy Number 1 is enjoying a rather well-invited place in American society. Unfortunately, you only need to consider two numbers to realize that  the War on Drugs been largely unsuccessful and that there have been few, if any, recent wins on the various worldwide battlefronts: $177.26 and $239.54.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, in 2012 the retail price of one gram of pure cocaine (originating in Mexico) is $177.26. Thirty years ago, that cost was $239.54. What this dramatic price decrease indicates is that the War on Drugs – which has cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost – is not working. In fact, many experts argue that the war on drugs – originally conceived to eliminate the illegal drug market – cannot be won.

It comes down to simple economics; prices match supply with demand. If the supply dropped because the drugs could not get into the US from Mexico (meaning high success rates of interdiction), we would expect the price to increase. That did not happen with cocaine. Nor did it happen with heroin or methamphetamine (In fact, the only drug not to see a significant price drop is marijuana.).

Consumer Demand Steady

The demand for illegal drugs has not decreased. According to a study financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 40% of high school seniors admit to using an illegal drug in the last year. Consumption patterns of hard drugs like cocaine and heroin have remained relatively stable over the last two decades, rising by a few points in the 1990’s and falling by a few points in the 2000’s.

Despite this troubling data, the US government has spent between $20 billion to $25 billion per year on the drug war over the last decade. Add to that the cost of the war on drugs for state and federal prisoners; almost 20% of inmates in state prisons and 50% of those doing time in federal prisons are incarcerated for drug offenses. According to FBI statistics, in 2010 alone, 1.64 million people were arrested for drug violations. Four out of five were for drug possession charges and nearly half of those were for small amounts of marijuana.

In fact, one obvious problem with the War on Drugs is that its primary product is violence. By driving manufacturers underground, US law enforcement agencies create armed territorial disputes, dangerous production and transportation methods while ultimately doing nothing to lessen the demand or the supply for illegal substances. With this in mind, it could easily be argued that the War on Drugs can only be considered successful if high rates of violence and arrests are the primary goal.

There have been no successes achieved by the War on Drugs, and millions of people are suffering as a result. If you or someone you love is fighting addiction and needs help, treatment is the only answer. Don’t become a casualty of the drug war – reach out for help now and take the first step on the road to your new life.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

You aren't alone. You deserve to get help.
Recovery First is located in Hollywood, Florida, which is easily accessible from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. Our small groups means you get more one-on-one support and make stronger connections with the community. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs near Florida's Atlantic coast or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.