Home The War on Drugs: History and Facts

The War on Drugs: History and Facts

If you live in the United States, you may have heard about the war on drugs at some point. The war has been going on for decades, as America fights to keep drugs from entering the nation and cracks down on drug users in the country. In recent years, this issue has fallen under heavy scrutiny and remains a political hotspot in America.

History of the War on Drugs

In 1971, the US government began cracking down on illegal drug use and distribution under President Nixon. Officially, the war on drugs came about due to a rise in recreational drug use during the 1960s. The goal? To increase penalties for drug-related crimes, more heavily enforce these efforts, and put more drug offenders behind bars.

The movement increased the enforcement and penalties offenders face, calling drug abuse “public enemy number one.” But it also increased the need for federal funding for drug-control agencies and the prison system. Thus, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was created in 1973 to tackle drug use and the smuggling of illegal narcotics into America, much of which enters the U.S. through the southern boarders and Mexico.

In recent decades, public support for the war on drugs varies drastically, with critics pointing to data on how people of color are targeted for drug suspicion whereas Caucasians can often receive lesser sentences for the same or similar crimes. Some also claim the country could benefit from legalizing and taxing drugs similarly to alcohol and tobacco, which many states are showing could be lucrative forms of government funding for other issues. Policymakers and other Americans, on the other hand, continue to support the war on drugs.

Regardless of popular support, the war is weighing. With many states legalizing marijuana, more political views are swaying toward tolerating recreational drugs. Countless facts and reports have shown little results from the war, yet a high cost for Americans. The war on drugs continues, just with less intensity today than in the early years of its creation.

The War on Drugs: Statistics and Facts

  • In the beginning, the DEA had 1,470 agents with a budget under $75 million. Today, over 5,000 DEA agents have a $2 billion budget.
  • Just before Nixon declared the war on drugs, a report was released on the increasing epidemic of heroin use by soldiers in Vietnam. Marijuana use in the 60s and cocaine use in the 70s and 80s were also considered issues in America.
  • In 1969, 48% of Americans considered drug use to be a serious issue. In 1989, 64% of Americans saw drug abuse as a huge problem, but the following year this number plummeted to 10%.
  • In 1980, there were 50,000 inmates behind bars for nonviolent, drug-related crimes, which increased to over 400,000 prisoners by 1997. Today, around 500,000 people remain behind bars on drug charges.
  • The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 established mandatory prison time for some drug offenses, some of which were criticized for targeting people of color. Congress attempted to correct this with the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010.
  • Over the past 40 years, the U.S. has spent over $2.5 trillion fighting the war on drugs.
  • While the war on drugs has increased incarceration rates and decreased smuggling illegal drugs, the amount of drug users has increased with 19.9 million drugs users currently in America.
  • The D.A.R.E. program began in 1983 to educate children on resisting drugs. By 2003 it cost $230 million dollars and employed 50,000 police officers, but never showed promising results in reducing illegal drug use.
  • In the year 2012, 1.55 million Americans were arrested on nonviolent drug charges.
  • The Drug War in Mexico has led to over 70,000 deaths since the year 2006.

War on Drugs: Cost

To enforce the war on drugs, the U.S. spends over $51 billion each year. On the home front, each federal inmate costs an average of $30,619 in 2017, and $92 million was requested to fund drug court cases in the judicial system. Half of the inmates in federal prisons were serving on drug charges last year, which has cost the U.S. over $450 billion to maintain federal prison systems.

Another $20 billion has been spent fighting drug cartels in South America and Afghanistan, and $49 billion has been spent on enforcing and protecting America’s boarders with the goal of cutting off illegal drugs from entering the country.

American taxpayers also fund the war, ponying up over $213.5 billion for national drug control strategy since 2008. Money from taxpayers is spent covering drug treatment programs, law enforcement agencies, and both public and private prison systems and companies. There are also countless other prevention organizations that receive funding, such D.A.R.E. or “Just Say No” that have cost over $33 billion in marketing since 1970.

Although the war on drugs has fallen under scrutiny recently, policymakers still spent $31 billion in 2017 for drug control efforts.

Drug Enforcement Administration Website

DEA Jobs

Thanks to the war on drugs, you can find a lucrative career as a DEA agent. With over 10,000 professionals serving in various DEA related roles, the agency employs the following each year:

  • Almost 6,000 special agents
  • 800 intelligence research specialists
  • 600 diversion investigators
  • 300 chemists or forensic scientists

These professionals spend their careers investigating and prosecuting drug gangs and cartels that illegally transfer different types of drugs, from narcotics to pharmaceuticals. Because drug trafficking is often conducted by large and violent criminal organizations or terrorists, DEA agents work both domestically and internationally. Jobs range based on the type of work a DEA professional conducts, from working in the field to conducting research in a lab setting.

Special agents may physically track down traffickers aboard whereas administrative support jobs like an attorney would prosecute, detain, or deport offenders. Forensic science jobs also exist, from fingerprint specialists to computer forensic examiners, to investigate crime scenes and the evidence needed to convict in a court of law.