The War on Drugs in America Essay

The war on drugs in America has been touted for its many accomplishments in helping stop drug abuse. Drugs are dangerous not only because of the financial and psychological effects on society but also because drugs are unraveling the social fabric by gripping our youth in a cycle of drug addiction and disease that can only ultimately lead to violence and harm. The war on drugs through successive governments has only been marginally successful. The criminal conduct associated with drug usage has high public costs. Even the successful prevention of drug supply has not helped in limiting drug related criminal behavior. However, researchers agree that criminal activity in America and the rest of the world is strongly associated with drug availability and usage (Dobkin & Nicosia 2009).

During the 90’s youth gangs surged all over United States. Interestingly, during the same time crack cocaine also became the drug of choice for many. Youth gangs high on crack brought the third and inevitable problem; gang related violence. In the 1960’s gangs were not involved in drug trafficking or abuse, but the rapid growth in the number of cocaine users led to the gang members not only becoming drug abusers but also getting involved in the trade of drug. This in turn brought crack cocaine in easy access of the masses, as even the street corner gangs started thinking of drug trade as an easy way of making money. Studies show that by the 1990’s gang members were involved in higher levels of drug use as compared to non-gang member population (Howell & Decker 1999).

Of course, preceding decline in manufacturing jobs did not help the situation. Selling drugs was and still is considered a way of making quick money. Most of the new jobs created in the 80’s and 90’s were in suburbs. This left the inner city residents to fend for them and drug marketers were the only one providing work. Drugs affected the social life of these gang members in other ways as well. Firstly, their new economy forced them to rethink their pathways in life. The traditional work, marriage and family lifestyle was now out of question for many. These young gang members would no longer be influenced by norms and traditions. Instead, their gangs acted as families with social control over its members. This was followed by the violence. Gangs ferociously guarded their areas and turf wars broke out. Research into the relationship between drugs and violent crime has outlined three ways in which drugs can lead to violence. First, the pharmacological effects of a drug can make its user violent and secondly, violence occurs when an abusers is forced to commit violent crimes in order to secure financing for their expensive habit. Lastly, violence is the product of the drug system in which it is the only way of ensuring expansion of drug market share and protection from other market participants (Howell & Decker, 1999).

Another side effect of drugs being sold on the street corner is that those who were already dealing with the harsh realities of life found an easy way out of their problems, even if it was for a little while. This led to many women to abuse drugs as well. The increase in prostitution can also be coincided with the increase of drugs in the American society. It is too, a never-ending cycle as prostitutes use drugs to deal with the humiliating aspects of their profession while indulging in it to finance their expensive habit of drug abuse (Young, Boyd & Hubbell 2000). Many people think that drug addicts simply lack the will to leave their addiction or they are morally corrupt because they consciously want to do all the bad things that happen. The reality is that drug addiction is a disease that alters the brain chemistry of a person making it impossible to simply wash the addiction away. Every year more than $600 billion are spent in health and crime costs related to drugs. However, even these numbers are insufficient to explain the harm caused by drugs to our society, as it does not take into account the additional costs such as loss of employment, child abuse and domestic violence (National Institute on Drug Abuse.: Understanding drug abuse and addiction 2011).

Of all the drugs currently being sold in the United States, marijuana is the most common. Marijuana is also known as pot, grass, ganja and weed. It is actually a dry mix of parts of the hemp plant Cannabis Sativa. Marijuana abuse can be addictive and lead to compulsive behavior. According to a research, about 9% of those who use marijuana eventually become addicted to it. However, if the users start out young, nearly 17 % end up getting addicted. Despite the constant government efforts to curb drug usage, 14% of 8th graders and 28% of 9th graders have admitted to abusing marijuana at least once (National Institute on Drug Abuse: Marijuana 2010). Cocaine is also rampant on our streets; it is powerfully addictive. Crack is also a form of cocaine that is inhaled in the form of vapors whereas cocaine is snorted or injected. The war on drugs has been significantly harmful to cocaine, as the numbers of its users have steadily declined since 2008 (National Institute on Drug Abuse: Cocaine 2010). Another problem is that drug abuse is not always obvious. Prescription drug abuse occurs when a person takes prescription medicine “for reasons or in dosages other than as prescribed”. This can lead a person to getting addicted to these medicines. The most commonly abused medicines are painkillers (opioids), medicine for anxiety and sleep disorders (depressants) and for ADHD and narcolepsy (stimulants). The mostly common names are Vicodin, Oxycontin, Valium, Xanax and Adderall. Statistics show that Vicodin and Oxycontin were used for nonmedical purposes at least once in a year in 7.7% 10th and 8.0% 12th graders (National Institute on Drug Abuse :.Medical consequences of drug abuse n.d.).

All these addictive substances are particularly harmful for health. Marijuana can increase heart rate by up to 100% within a few moments of smoking and the effect can last up to 3 hours. This increases the risk of heart attack by more than five times. Marijuana is disastrous on heart rhythms and aging drug abusers are particularly as risk of cardiac troubles. It also contains up to 70% more carcinogens compared to cigarette smoke. Cough, phlegm acute chest illness and even cancer can be caused by marijuana use. Cocaine on the other hand is responsible for a plethora of health troubles as well. It causes constricted blood vessels, abdominal pain, nausea and decreases appetite. If taken intranasal, cocaine can cause the loss of sense of smell and nosebleeds. Taking it with an injection can cause allergic reaction and lead to a higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Cocaine abuse can also lead to severe psychological issues like paranoia and psychosis. The mortality associated with cocaine is mainly due to heart attacks and seizures. Abusers or prescription drugs are also faced with similar health issues. Opioids and nervous system depressants if abused for a long time cause drowsiness and constipation. Drug abuse in large quantities can be fatal as it can depress breathing and slow down the brain. Stimulants if taken regularly can lead to anxiety, paranoia and even seizures from irregular heartbeats. Injection drug users make up 12% of the new HIV infections. Drug abusers have been associated with rise in sexually transmitted diseases and infections. This is primarily because they use contaminated syringes for injecting drugs and engage in unsafe sex. Crack is associated with an increase in risky sexual behaviors. HIV, syphilis and genital ulcers are associated with unprotected sex encouraged by crack cocaine usage (National Institute on Drug Abuse :.Medical consequences of drug abuse n.d.).

Before the war on drugs was started, 1480 Californians had died from over dosage of illicit drugs in 1980. This was about 8% of California’s death toll from external causes. Almost 30 years later, and drug abuse still counts for the highest number of deaths when compared to accidents, suicides and murders. The number of deaths due to drugs has increased more than twice in comparison to the 1980s. In the year 1999, nearly 4196 Californians died from abusing prohibited drugs. During the last 15 years, drug and medicinal drug abuse has increased exponentially. (Hwang, Ross, Zack, Bull, Rickman & Holleman, 2000)

All other external causes of death are declining, except for drugs that is. Over the last decade, the death toll from drugs has doubled and drug abuse now claims a life every 14 minutes. Compare this to traffic accidents that have been dropping steadily over the past few years. Government started keeping track of drug related deaths in 1979, for the first time since then drug abuse has led to more deaths than traffic accidents. Health experts cite these statistics when debating the necessity of war on drugs despite which these figures have been rising. (Girion, Glover & Smith 2011) This, along with the rise in drug abuse related deaths only affirms the view that the war on drugs still has a long way to go. Only strict legislative action can make law enforcement officers rise above busting those possessing small amounts of marijuana so they can go after those who supply this poison to the American citizens.


Dobkin, C., & Nicosia, N. (March 01, 2009). The war on drugs: Methamphetamine, public health, and crime.American Economic Review, 99, 1, 324-349.

Girion, L., Glover, S., & Smith, D. (2011, September 17). Drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in U.S., data show. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from

Howell, J. C. & Decker, S. H. (1999).The youth gangs, drugs, and violence connection. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Hwang, L.-Y., Ross, M. W., Zack, C., Bull, L., Rickman, K., & Holleman, M. (October 01, 2000). Prevalence of Sexually Transmitted Infections and Associated Risk Factors among Populations of Drug Abusers. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 31, 4, 920-926.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010, March). Cocaine. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services. Retrieved from:

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010, November). Marijuana. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2011). Understanding drug abuse and addiction. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services. Retrieved from:

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.).Medical consequences of drug abuse. Retrieved from

Young, A. M., Boyd, C., & Hubbell, A. (December 07, 2000). Prostitution, Drug Use, and Coping with Psychological Distress. Journal of Drug Issues, 30, 4.