Name: Riley Hall
From: Tigard, OR
The Losing Battle
It is common knowledge to most American’s of at least voting age that there is an epidemic in America. No, it’s not the novel coronavirus that has derailed the entire world for the past few months, but a battle that has been being fought for generations. While the term wasn’t officially coined until the early 1970’s, the war on drugs can be traced back to banning opium substances in the late 1800’s and the alcohol probation of the 1920’s. Modern day politicians have shifted the focus of the war towards illegal substances such as cocaine and methamphetamine. You would think that overtime with the use of different policies initiated from the government and practices used by law enforcement that drug use would have been nearly eradicated by now (around 50 years since the war on drugs was announced), however, the passing of time has only seen an increase in illegal drug use, especially in younger generations. The World Health Organization’s Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) found that 16.2% of U.S. citizens have used cocaine at some point compared to 4.3% of New Zealand citizens. Another study from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that drug use in Americans aged 12 and up has increased by 1.1% from 2002 to 2013 (T., Buddy).
In the United States, a drug conviction often means harsh punishment and excessive jail time. Despite this approach used by law enforcement today studies have found that less severe punishments often lead to lower rates of illegal drug use. For example, an article published by German Lopez on Vox talks about three different scenarios which might help to combat drug use. The second scenario talks about smart legalization, which would legalize drugs like hallucinogens but have tight restrictions and taxes on them, which in turn, could direct people to use cheaper and less harmful drugs such as e-cigarettes. With smart probation, the drug user wouldn’t be merely punished for their drug use but rather the offenses surrounding the drug use such as robbery in order to afford drugs. This could open up more resources and also signal to criminal drug users that while the government approves of recreational drug use, they will use more resources and more enforcement to crack down on drug violence and trafficking. Another article published by Verywell Mind reports that “‘Drug use is related to income, but does not appear to be simply related to drug policy, since countries with more stringent policies towards illegal drug use did not have lower levels of such drug use than countries with more liberal policies”’. Since selling drugs can be a way of life for some American citizens and can often get them in serious trouble, this war on drugs would unfairly target lower income households who rely on drug money. Targeting behavior rather than drug usage as well as legalizing illicit drugs might not be the solution to ending illegal drug use in America, but could help to lower drug violence in America and bring in more revenue for the government through taxation on drugs while still supporting the Americans who rely on selling drugs. The shift in legalization might also allow drug dealers to get legitimate jobs in selling legal drugs.
There are things that America can do on a widespread scale, but the individual citizen could also help fight illegal drug use within their social groups. If a person suspects that a loved one is suffering from addiction, Drugabuse.com writes that they can approach the loved one calmy with care rather than confronting and forcing the user about their problems. They should seek help from a professional and explore which path would be best for their loved one, since there are a variety of programs to deal with addiction. Education is essential for this process. Not knowing the symptoms of addiction or how to help can cause an addict to spiral further. The average system should remain educated on addiction so they know what to do if they ever need to seek help for themselves or others. No matter what, if the steps being taken are on a national scale or an individual scale, they need to be followed through with, or else a persistent and violent war on drugs will never be stopped.
Lopez, German. “America Can End Its War on Drugs. Here’s How.” Vox, Vox, 25 Apr. 2016,
Staff, American Addiction Centers Editorial. “Drug Addiction Help: Assist Someone With
Recovery Treatment.” DrugAbuse.com, 29 Jan. 2020,
T., Buddy. “U.S. Has Highest Levels of Illegal Drug Use.” Verywell Mind, 27 Oct. 2016,