The War on Drugs has failed us. In fact, it has left us completely broken.
After social upheaval and political rebellion erupted in the ’60s, drugs became the symbol of the youth rebellion that represented and expanded the hippie generation. President Richard Nixon first declared the War on Drugs in 1971 after he stated that drugs were “public enemy number one in the United States.”
Although originally introduced by Nixon, it was President Ronald Reagan who expanded the war. He quickly introduced new government agencies, new laws and new mandatory sentencing for all drug-related offenses. After mass media portrayed a rapidly growing cocaine addiction, Nancy Reagan began her widely publicized anti-drug campaign: “Just Say No.”
Thirty years later, it’s obvious the War on Drugs is ineffective. In 2010 alone, the federal government spent over $15 billion on the War on Drugs and in 2009 there were an estimated 1.6 million drug-related arrests.
Not only has it cost the United States trillions of dollars, but the War on Drugs has resulted in high incarceration rates that have led to racial injustice and overcrowded prisons. Racial profiling and discrimination resulting from the war have led to a new Jim Crow era, as blacks are arrested for drug law violations at rates 2.8 to 5.5 times higher than whites.
Not only has the War on Drugs failed, but the idea of teaching youth and adolescents to “just say no” has failed as well; illicit drug use in the U.S. has continued to increase despite added drug educational programs such as D.A.R.E. Between 2002 and 2013 illicit drug use increased from 8.3 percent to 9.4 percent.
It is time to end the War on Drugs and stop teaching kids to say no. Instead, we need to teach them to know.
Here’s the sad, honest truth: I am going to do drugs, despite how many times you tell me to say no. You are doing more scaring than you are educating and because of my lack of knowledge, I’m going to question exactly why I should say no.
Instead of showing me track marks of heroin addicts and listing how statistically possible it is for me to contract HIV or AIDS, teach me which drugs should never be mixed so I know which substances to avoid and how to recognize an overdose. Maybe real, practical knowledge and understanding of the physical affects will teach me the real reasons I should say no.
I had no idea the feelings of euphoria caused from ecstasy made it easier to overheat and dehydrate. I did not realize how quickly the drug increases body temperature. Instead of scaring me with pictures of unconscious girls at raves, you should have told me how important it is to stay hydrated. I wish somebody would have taught me that the drug permanently alters the brain.
The pictures of melted meth faces horrified me, yet I had no idea that just one experience of meth can change the structure in the brain, lead to extended fits of aggravation or bursts of anger. Had I known the effects I would have been able to recognize the symptoms when users were still in the experimentation process. By the time I recognized anything, the experimenting had become an addiction.
It was terrifying to see how easily cocaine users could experience suicidal thoughts after coming down from their high, and it was sad to see how depressed many felt without the added effects of the drugs. Drug education class warned me how dangerous it was to buy from just anyone on the street, but no one told me how dealers mixed impure substances for the sake of money. No one told me how important it was to keep track of your heart rate to monitor how quickly the drug was affecting your body.
Teaching me to say no it simply not enough; I need to know why I need to say no.
Drug education should be open, honest and raw. It should be real. Instead of scaring me with wild images and horrifying statistics, teach me the physical and psychological impacts of each drug so I know the lasting impact it may have on my body and brain. Rather than pretending drugs don’t exist and trying to shield me from learning about them, teach me how devastating and life changing they can be.
The more I know the more likely I am to say no. Prevent the problem before you have to punish it. Maybe we could avoid addiction altogether.
The War on Drugs isn’t working, and while it needs to be seriously reformed, drug education in the U.S. needs restructuring too.