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40-Year War On Drugs Hasn't Worked, Policy Chief Says

3 years ago
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The "War on Drugs" in the United States has cost $1 trillion over four decades to virtually no effect, and even the nation's drug czar says the strategy is a failure, according to an investigation by The Associated Press published Thursday.

"In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," drug czar Gil Kerlikowske told the AP. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."

Kerlikowske said the problem has been not focusing enough on prevention and treatment.

"We'll arrest the drug dealer, but we leave the addiction," he said.

This week President Obama backed up that rhetoric by announcing a new national policy that treats drug use as much as a public health concern as a criminal issue.

The AP examined 40 years of budgets and other records related to the drug war and determined that taxpayers spent more than:

- $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking -- and the violence along with it -- moved to Mexico.

- $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America's youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.

- $49 billion for law enforcement along America's borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.

- $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.

- $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.

On top of all that, the Justice Department estimates the consequences of drug abuse -- "an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction" -- costs an additional $215 billion a year.

Read the full AP report here.
Filed Under: Investigations

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