Since When is the War on Drugs Really a War on People?

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Calendar icon Last Updated: 09/16/2021
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As of the 1970s, the war on drugs has made little to no progress in terms of reducing access to available drug supplies or reducing drug abuse in general. Changing drug laws and harsh penalties have only worked to exacerbate the problem with nearly 50 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons serving time for drug-related offenses. Meanwhile, addiction rates continue to rise with each passing year.

While the overall intent of the war on drugs is good, the ramifications have not only worsened the problem, but also stigmatized addiction in such a way as to discourage addicts from seeking out needed treatment help. Ultimately, changing the focus of the “war” from drugs to addiction may be a good first step in the right direction.

The War on Drugs

Over the course of five decades, the war on drugs has essentially targeted drugs, drug dealers and drug users or addicts. Funding measures have gone towards policing and incarceration for the most part, with any funding earmarked for drug treatment being discretionary at best.

According to PBS Frontline, what started out as a treatment-focused war under President Nixon turned into a law enforcement task that’s prevailed to this day. In the process, urban communities have been taken over by drug lords as heroin infiltrates suburban areas in plain view.

The Impact of Drug Laws

According to the University of Delaware, with the passage of the the first comprehensive drug law -the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914- drug abuse was assigned the label, “deviant behavior.” Herein lies the beginnings of a social attitude towards addiction and the resulting stigma that addiction bears.

Since then, drug laws have taken a punitive approach to addiction, which is essentially a brain disease. In effect, attempts to “redirect” compulsive drug-using behaviors without treating the condition has created a prison population of repeat offenders who have little to no insight into addiction’s effect on their lives.

The Shame of Stigma and Its Impact on the Addict

The resulting stigma brought on by the war on drugs has formed the basis for society’s view of addiction as socially discredited health condition. From this perspective, addicts face an uphill battle in terms of the hold addiction has over the body and mind, and the shame that comes with asking for help, according to the Journal of Addiction.

These conditions create a social atmosphere that works to exclude the addict as well as the recovering addict, and ultimately create prime conditions for drug “subcultures” to develop.


The war on drugs treats addiction as a crime, when its actually a medical disorder. In the absence of needed treatment supports, the war on drugs will continue to breed rising drug abuse rates, overcrowded prisons and broken communities.