The War on Drugs
Has the War on Drugs been won or merely forgotten in favor of more dramatic issues? FDU Magazine asked Richard Gray, assistant professor of criminal justice and a retired substance abuse treatment coordinator for the U.S. Probation Department in Brooklyn,“Are U.S. drug laws effectively reducing the impact of drug use and abuse on our society?"

The best measurement of the effectiveness of the “War on Drugs” comes from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which states, “The goals of the program are to reduce illicit drug use, manufacturing and trafficking, drug-related crime and violence, and drug-related health consequences.”

If we focus on the most basic questions — “Is drug use down?” “Is crime down?” and “Are drugs less available?” — the answer to our larger question becomes apparent.

If we focus on the most basic questions —
“Is drug use down?”
“Is crime down?” and “Are drugs less available?” — the answer to our larger question becomes apparent.

Drug use. According to National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) drug use by persons over age 12 has remained relatively stable since 1988 (the year the “Drug War” began). During this period, the number of persons who reported drug use in the previous month or the previous year has remained unchanged and the number of persons reporting any drug use has increased by about 7 million.

The organization Monitoring the Future examines access to drugs, drug use and attitudes toward drugs of the nation’s junior and senior high school students. According to its 2005 study, there were minor declines in substance abuse by older teens, but previous declines in use among eighth graders had stopped. More importantly, the changes themselves were not statistically significant — they could be explained by chance alone. For all intents and purposes, there was no reduction in substance abuse among school children.

Drug-related crime. In general, crime is down in the United States. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, it has decreased significantly since 1993. However, since 1995, drug-related arrests have stayed relatively stable at approximately 1.5 million per year. Although reporting slightly lower arrest rates, the Bureau also reported that arrests for drug abuse violations increased steadily between 1991 and 1996 and remained stable from 1997 to 2005.

Drug availability. If supply is down, you cannot tell by the responses of high school students. The 2005 Monitoring the Future study found that marijuana was judged to be easy or very easy to get by 85 percent of 12th graders. LSD was perceived as less available; however, other hallucinogens have increased steadily in availability. On the brighter side, almost 8 percent fewer 12th graders than in the previous year perceied MDMA (ecstasy) to be fairly easy or easy to get. Despite this, cocaine, crack, hallucinogens, MDMA and amphetamines were rated as easily accessible by between 40 and 50 percent of students.

The government spends about $13 billion per year in its war against drugs. Have they been successful in stopping or significantly impacting substance abuse? Has the drug war decreased drug-related crime? Is the availability of illegal substances down? Insofar as the "War on Drugs" metaphor has failed us, we had best begin to think of a new strategy.

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