The “War on Drugs” Didn’t Work in Other Countries Either

War on Drugs
(Photo by Golubovystock/

Here is a phrase that gets tossed around quite often, “The war on drugs.” This phrase actually came from the Reagan Administration, when First Lady Nancy Reagan pioneered the War on Drugs in 1983. Since then, the phrase has become iconic, an instant indicator to an embattled state in which “We The People” wage a “war” on drug abuse and drug addiction. However, the phrase has much larger and broader connotations than that. In fact, the “War on Drugs” was attempted in other countries too, and it didn’t work there either.

An Outdated Approach

In 2016, global leaders from across the planet met for the first time since before the turn of the century to debate and brainstorm global drug policy. The meeting occurred at the U.N. General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem in New York.


The special session was convened because three Latin American countries requested it. From their viewpoint, current global policy in the “war on drugs” was causing more damage than it was causing good, mainly because it was an outdated approach. In Mexico alone, the number of homicides that were directly related to the war on drugs exceeded the death counts from the wars in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan combined.

And as if that were not enough, all around the world we see drugs being more available, more affordable, and more accepted in countries as being “okay” or, “not that bad.” Obviously, the War on Drugs is not an effective method of tackling the problem simply because the drug problem has grown significantly worse during the time period of the War on Drugs. That alone is evidence enough to the obsolete traits of the War on Drugs.

A Problem Everywhere

It’s not just developing countries in Latin America and the Middle East that are seeing ineffective results from their own, respective conquests against drugs. This is a highly ineffective tactic right here in the United States too. Tough prohibition does not work here, and it never has. Only treatment of those who are currently addicted and preventing others from becoming addicted is truly effective.

In the United States, we are a quandary of back and forth. On the one hand, the U.S. was the first nation to politicize and export this concept of a “war” on drugs. However, the U.S. is also in the process of legalizing marijuana, which seems somewhat counterintuitive.

Albert Einstein

One report likened the global support of a War on Drugs to the definition of insanity, per Albert Einstein.
According to Einstein:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

That is our pursuance of the War on Drugs in a nutshell. We just keep on beating that banner hoping eventually it will work. Most people don’t know this but, in 1998, the U.S. special session on drugs made a unanimous declaration that we would have a “drug-free world” by 2008. Instead, the drug problem almost doubled in that ten year period.

Treatment and Prevention is the Answer

The answer to getting rid of drug and alcohol addiction is:

  • Treat those who are currently addicted.
  • Prevent others from becoming addicted.

When a parent talks to their child about the risks attendant with drug abuse (an act of drug prevention) that child is four times less likely to abuse drugs at an older age. Yet only thirty percent of parents do this.

When an addict is rehabilitated at a drug and alcohol rehab center (an act of drug treatment) that individual is likely to never abuse drugs again. And yet only twenty-five percent of addicts ever go to rehab.

It is clear the direction our nation needs to go in, and it has very little to do with the War on Drugs.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.