“The War on Drugs.” That’s what President Richard Nixon deemed his initiative for regaining control over the substance abuse problem rapidly spreading across the country throughout the 1960s.
While his motives behind this so-called war have been up for debate over the decades- brought into question yet again most recently when a former aide stated that the true target of the aggressive tactics involved in “the War on Drugs” were black people and members of the hippie subculture- what cannot be denied is that on July 17th, 1971, the course of American history was changed.
With an address in which he passionately declared war against drugs and drug abusers, Nixon set into motion a chain of events which would shape the way we viewed addiction and substance abuse for decades, and how some people still view it today: the propaganda and anti-drug campaigning has created a society apathetic- if not volatile- to the suffering of people with substance abuse disorders. Rather that successfully discouraging drug or alcohol abuse, the “War on Drugs” has successfully stratified society in such a way that leaves people in need of compassion and assistance to face shame and ridicule.
Perhaps in the 1970s that was okay. It was a time of great political and social unrest; things were changing on all fronts, people were afraid and desperate for something and someone to channel their anger into. The supposed amoral and devious hippies and ‘drug fiends’ seemed the perfect target.
That kind of thought process is archaic and despicable; it’s time we catch up to the 21st century. ‘Why?’ you might ask. Well, I’ve got 5 reasons to end the drug war.
#1: Wasted Government Funds
In 2013, $49 billion tax dollars went to maintaining the American prison system, an estimated four percent of the national government funding budget. People often cite not wanting their tax dollars to go to programs which “support drug habits”- yet by continuously incarcerating people with substance abuse disorders rather than giving them alternatives that provide treatment and encourage sobriety, you are doing exactly that. Without the therapy and support provided in rehabilitation, our current prison system is nothing more than a conveyor belt of repeat offenders with little chance of breaking that cycle without proper aid.
#2: Extreme Legal Ramifications
Beyond creating a cycle of imprisonment, the current state of the prison system also allots for condemnation through extreme legal ramifications for drug offenders. When non-violent offenders are being sentenced to decades behind bars- or even life!- for possession or other drug related charges, it’s difficult to argue that nothing is broken. Believing that this incidents are few and far between would be nice; however, when President Obama has overturned over 6,000 sentences for non-violent drug offenders that illusion is shattered. The laws which allow for such harsh ramifications stem from the strict guidelines set forth by the Nixon administration.
#3: Stigmas Make Finding Aid Difficult
The stigmas society attributes to addiction and substance abuse all stem from the anti-drug propaganda from the inception of “the War on Drugs.” From advertising, films, and television which over-exaggerated the effects and dangers of substance abuse, these negative portrayals of addiction have been ingrained in the minds of millions- despite being unfounded in truth. The danger in such propaganda-based stigmas is that those who are in need of recovery services are made to feel ashamed and less than human for their afflictions. Even beyond accepting and admitting the need for rehab, people often run into issues relating to availability of services, affordability, and quality of care. By letting go of these preconceived notions we have as a society against addiction, we can get much closer to ending the epidemic of substance abuse than we ever could by shaming and shunning people in need.
#4: Shame from Stigmas Put Children in Danger
No matter how grand and detailed and thoughtfully orchestrated your life plan is, life has a way of just happening sometimes. Rather that involves a relationship not working out, the loss of a job, or some major, traumatic event, the greatest mark of a survivor and a fighter is the ability to adapt and move forward in life regardless of what happens. “The War on Drugs” and the stigmas it has produced make it incredibly hard to do that. This is especially true for young people who find it challenging to get help for their substance abuse disorders without revealing themselves to parents and other potentially disappointed authority figures in their lives. Additionally, misinformation and inexperience can lead to dangerous experimentation and preventable overdoses.
This shame extends beyond youth, too. Expectant mothers who have substance abuse disorders find themselves hiding their struggles out of fear of having their children taken by protective services. Unfortunately this can lead to premature deaths, birth defects, and loss of pregnancy.
#5: Science Backs Addiction as A Treatable Disorder
I’ve written about it this previously, but as we continue to study the effects of illicit drugs and alcohol, we are learning about the intimate and intricate ways addiction takes over our lives. More and more, science has found increasing evidence of the physical and mental changes substance abuse causes, leading substance abuse to officially be recognized as a disorder. While we continue to So why, then, are we continuing to wage a war against people with a diagnosable and treatable medical condition? War isn’t the answer here- it never was.
Featured Image: “End the Drug War Now Badge” by Andi Sidwell. Licensed under CC by 2.0.
Do you think it’s time to end “the War on Drugs?” Tell us what you think below!
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