Friday, May 14, 2010

The Cost of the War on Drugs

In 1970, President Richard M. Nixon said, "Public enemy No. 1 in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive. So began the war on drugs. Forty years later the United States has spent over a trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000) and even the current drug czar Gil Kerlikowske told the Associated Press, "In the grand scheme, it has not been successful."

President Nixon's first drug-fighting budget was $100 million. Now it's $15.1 billion, 31 times Nixon's amount even when adjusted for inflation.

Using Freedom of Information Act requests, archival records, federal budgets and dozens of interviews with leaders and analysts, the Associated Press tracked where that money went, and found that the United States repeatedly increased budgets for programs that did little to stop the flow of drugs. In 40 years, taxpayers spent more than:

_ $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico — and the violence along with it.

_ $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America's youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.

_ $49 billion for law enforcement along America's borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.

_ $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.

_ $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.

These expenditures do not include the indirect cost of lost productivity due to drug abuse, medical costs for long term medical problems, residual cost of broken families
and blighted neighborhoods. The costs associated with those victimized by drug users looking for cash. The families devastate by the loss of life in the battles for drug turf.

The costs associated with the war on drugs and the devastation left in it's wake are staggering.

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