How Much Does the War on Drugs Cost?

By July 16, 2018Drug Addiction

“America is at war,” and this isn’t a blanket statement considering that the USA has been battling drug abuse for just about a century. Despite the policy changes, and dollars spent in the fight against drug abuse, it seems that the war isn’t ending soon, in fact, America may just be losing the battle. More drug abusers are in jail, in hospitals, and in courts and drugs are still easily attainable. This has left many wondering, how much does the war on drugs cost and is it worth it?

The drug business poses violence, child neglect, and organized crimes. While much of the effort may be focused on criminalization, something alarming is happening. That is that the amount being spent to eradicate drug abuse is just too enormous. America spends about $50 billion every year in eradicating drugs, however, only less than 10% illicit drugs are captured. Probably, we would ask, “Is the $50 billion dollars spent on a 90% drug capture failure rate really logical?”

A Brief History of U.S. Drug Use

You may think that the problem of drug use in the United States begun a few decades ago, but that’s not the case. In 1800’s opium was used, particularly after America’s Civil War. Cocaine was also used in the 1880s while coca, was put in many health drinks or remedies. Heroin was used in the treatment of respiratory illnesses and at one point, cocaine was used in soda, particularly Coca-Cola. The first federal drug use policy was passed in 1914 (The Harrison Narcotics Act) restricting the selling and manufacturing of heroin, cocaine, morphine, and marijuana. The demand for drugs increased in the 1960s as many groups popularized drug use making the Johnson Administration pass the 1966 Narcotics Addict Rehabilitation Act.

The Modern Drug War

President Richard Nixon proclaimed drug abuse as the number one public enemy of America in 1971 and initiated significant funding to aid in treatment programs including the contentious methadone maintenance program. President Carter ordered for marijuana decriminalization in 1977 saying the penalties imposed on possession of drugs shouldn’t have far-reaching consequences than the drug or substance itself. Carter was lenient on marijuana but didn’t support legalization.

Increasing Incarceration Rates

It’s estimated that the number of persons in jail for offenses related to nonviolent drug arrests went up from 50,000 to 400,000 in the period between 1980 and 1997. Today, the number is higher and the federal government continues to spend huge sums of money on people in jail. The unrivaled drug incarceration rate in the United States causes a big financial drain, it causes a great loss of productivity and strains the law enforcement resources. A punitive approach on the war against drug abuse may bring some hope, but what about the cost implication?

The Wasted Taxpayer Dollars

It is estimated that over $1 trillion dollars have been poured by the state and federal governments in the past four decades to wage war on drug use and abuse. The taxpayers are relied upon to foot the bill. Even with more dollars being pumped into the fight against drugs, it doesn’t seem to solve the problem, in fact, a new set of issues are arising. The fiscal costs of America’s fight against drugs are implicated by the following:

  • In 1980 about 50,000 people were behind bars for violations related to drug law and now the number is over 400,000.

  • Drug war advocates continue demanding more dollars for failed policies

  • Demand for drugs within the U.S. hasn’t declined (has remained constant) even with the financial commitment to fight the menace.

Who Loses Out in the Drug War?

With more than 1.25 million people being arrested every year in the United States for using or possessing illicit drugs, that translates to about one arrest in every 25 seconds. The increased incarceration means that there is a barrier to education, employment, and housing. The high number of people spending time in prison means that countless lives and communities are being destroyed, yet the federal government and states are spending more on drugs. Each inmate takes up to 30,000 a year and that’s taxpayer’s money. How heavy is that financial burden when you consider that there are more than 200,000 inmates in prisons (federal and state) on drug charges?

Spending on Drug Enforcement Has Doubled Since 2009

There has been increased scrutiny on the war against drugs in the recent years, but even with that, the amount that is being earmarked for battling drugs has not slipped. Since President Obama was in office, the amount almost doubled. About $31 billion dollars were channeled into drug control efforts in 2017 compared to 2009 drug enforcement spending of $15.3 billion. Since 2008, taxpayers in American have fronted about $213 billion through the National Drug Control Strategy efforts and this figure includes the funds that have gone toward law enforcement, treatment, and prevention, as well as drug trafficking resources.

The Opioids Crisis and Cost Implication

The deaths arising from an overdose of drugs in the U.S. are all-time high with an estimated 30,000 people losing their lives in 2015 from the use of opioids. The opioids crisis spending has cost the society more than 500 billion, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) report. The 21st Century Cures Act paved way for $1 billion to be spent on prevention and research on opioid addiction within the next two years from 2017.  The new estimates by the CEA on opioid crisis spending show that there have been an underestimate on how the abuse of opioids is costing Americans. A majority of the previous studies on the cost of opioid crisis did not put into consideration the costs related to fatalities that result from opioids overdose.

The Bottom Line

America is living in an unprecedented era with a population that’s supporting marijuana legalization, while a lot of money is also being spent on drugs. Drugs damage and destroy communities, however, this doesn’t have to present an enormously high cost to prevent the damage.

A change in drug use and abuse policy may perhaps bring in positive effects and help curb the problem. With more than 300,000 Americans have died from overdoses related to opioids use since the year 2000, President Donald J. Trump seeks to address the opioid abuse through a Public Health Emergency declaration.

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