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When Did the War on Drugs Start?

The War on Drugs started in the 1970s. President Nixon officially commissioned the War on Drugs as a government-led initiative on 18th June 1971. The state and federal governments increased enforcement actions and strict sentencing laws. President Nixon declared drug abuse to be a public enemy one. Two years later, he created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The agency’s main goal was to synchronize every other agency’s efforts to battle drug use and trafficking. 

Thus, the historical efforts on the war on drugs began. You may have heard some infamous cartels or dealers like Pablo Escobar. The United States government has registered multiple wins over the years. Still, experts argue that the efforts have been expensive and harsh, especially to low-level offenses. The economic impact has been severe. It has caused racial disparity, there is still an ongoing opioid epidemic, and the number of overdose deaths is still high.

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There have been debates and recommendations for more sensible drug policies. 

A Brief History of the War on Drugs

States started banning and regulating the use and sale of drugs in the 1800s. However, the first federal law to ban a drug was in 1909 through The Smoking Opium Exclusion Act. The act banned possession, purchase, or smoking opium. 

President Nixon named drug use or sale as public enemy number 1 in 1972, which he coined as the War on Drugs. One of the most important steps he took was to make marijuana illegal and classify it as a Schedule I drug. 

The DEA had 1470 special agents at the start, and their budget was less than $75 million. Currently, the agency has $2.03 billion and about 5,000 agents. During the 1970s, 11 states decriminalized possession of marijuana. This conflicted with president Nixon’s laws as marijuana possession was still a federal offense. 

However, President Jimmy Carter promised to decriminalize marijuana in his 1977 campaign. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to make it legal to possess and personally use up to an ounce of marijuana. 

President Reagan came into office in the 1980s and backed Nixon’s plan to expand the war on drugs, leading to multiple incarcerations. On the other hand, his wife Nancy Reagan started a campaign with the slogan ‘Just Say No.’ Nancy Reagan’s campaign was meant to help educate on the dangers of drugs. It was also meant to help overcome the most common addictions.  The 80s also saw Congress pass inescapable minimum prison sentences for particular sentences.

Impact of the War on Drugs

The war on drugs had various impacts, and most were negative. They include:

  1. Loss of Lives: Many agents and cartel operatives have lost their lives in this war. Sadly, there have been a lot of innocents killed in the cross-fire. 
  2. Racial Disparities: The war on drugs has caused a lot of racial disparities. Statistics show that 80% of those incarcerated for federal drug charges are people of color. 60% of those incarcerated for state drug charges are people of color. These statistics have caused an outcry from various critics and activists. 
  3. Economic Impact: The United States has spent an estimate of $1trillion on the war on drugs since 1971. Research in 2015 also shows that the federal government spent about $3.3 billion annually to charge and incarcerate people with drug-related offenses. 
  4. Opioid Epidemic: Despite the rigorous war on drugs, 2.4 million Americans, or 1 in every 100 Americans, have an opioid use disorder. Furthermore, the United States spends around 504 billion every year for justice healthcare and the economic impact of the opioid epidemic. 

Interventions for the War on Drugs

Some interventions have been proposed and actualized to help minimize substance use disorder and the impact of the war on drugs. Furthermore, these interventions are meant to take the war on drugs as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue. They are intended to encourage people and show why it is essential to reach out for help rather than hide. The interventions include:

1. Harm Reduction Measures

Naloxone has been one of the most effective harm reduction measures, as it helps reverse an opioid overdose. Thus, it saves about 180 lives every month in New York alone. The other impactful harm reduction program is creating syringe access programs like Supervised Injections Facilities (SIFs). They help to reduce the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, and more. Furthermore, they have helped to reduce the rate of overdose fatalities in many areas.

2. Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD)

LEAD is a program that started in Seattle. Instead of making arrests, police officers take individuals to social services or treatment for use disorder. Individuals who undertake this program are 58% less likely to be arrested.

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3. Drug Courts

A drug court is a unique court program that sentences individuals to supportive services, substance use disorder treatment, supervision & monitoring rather than sending them to prison. Participants of this system are 25% less likely to be rearrested for substance use disorder and actually helps to prevent relapse. 

Substance Use Disorder Treatment at 310 Recovery

310 Recovery is a fully licensed facility that offers alcohol and drug detox, rehabilitation, and partial hospitalization. We have three main programs. Our detox program helps you to get the substances out of your system successfully. 

When you detox, you are prone to withdrawal symptoms. Our residential program offers a safe environment, medication, and professionals to ease the withdrawal symptoms. The outpatient program helps you to cope with daily life challenges as you get back to your life. 

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We help individuals to overcome use disorder for various substances and co-occurring disorders. Contact us now to start treatment for you or your loved one. 


President Nixon officially started the war on drugs in 1971. Ronald Reagan expanded it in the 80s. The war on drugs has had a lot of impacts, mostly negative. There has been the loss of lives, racial disparities, adverse economic effects, and an ongoing opioid epidemic. 

There have been many attempts to provide alternatives to the war on drugs. For example, President Jimmy Carter decriminalized marijuana in 1977. Furthermore, there have been other efforts like the Just Say No Campaign by Nancy Reagan, the establishment of drug courts, the Law Enforcement, and Assisted Division (LEAD) program, and harm reduction measures like the use of naloxone. 

Rather than incarceration for minor drug charges, many people are advocating for treatment. Contact 310 Recovery now for substance use disorder treatment.


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310 Recovery accepts most major insurance providers and private healthcare policies. We offer free insurance verification as well as eligibility and benefits for both behavioral and mental health treatment services. Please fill out our insurance verification form here to verify your insurance.

What happens in addiction

Effective addiction treatment programs are tailored to each individual. Because of this, it will be a different experience for everyone. However, it generally involves a combination of detoxification, group and individual therapy, educational presentations, and aftercare planning in order to ensure long-term recovery. Upon arrival at 310 Recovery, you can expect our professionally trained staff to create an individualized treatment plan based on your needs and treatment goals.