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10 Ways the Drug War Is Causing Massive Collateral Damage to Our Society

From racial injustice to flawed foreign policy, the war on drugs causes harm on many fronts.

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8. Drug Treatment

Despite the government’s lip service to the need for treatment, most of the drug war budget still goes to criminal justice and military agencies. The majority of those who need treatment can’t get it. And for many, the only way to get treatment is to get arrested. We should never put people in a cage because they have a drug problem, and we should make treatment available to all who want it.

9. Public Health

Unsterile syringe sharing is associated with hundreds of thousands of HIV/AIDS infections in the U.S. among injection drug users, their sex partners and their children. Yet state paraphernalia and prescription laws limit access to sterile syringes in pharmacies, and the U.S. government stands alone among Western industrialized nations in refusing to fund needle exchange.

10. Destroyed Families

The number of people behind bars on drug charges in the U.S. has ballooned from 50,000 in 1980 to more than half a million today. That’s more than all of Western Europe (with a bigger population) incarcerates for everything. Millions of people in the U.S. now have a father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter behind bars on a drug charge.

Momentum Builds to End Drug War

The war on drugs is really a war on people. It is hard to imagine an issue that has caused so much damage to so many people on so many fronts. Thankfully, momentum is building in this country and abroad toward a more rational drug policy based on science, compassion, health and human rights. States like Colorado and Washington just dealt a blow to marijuana prohibition by legalizing marijuana. World leaders, including multiple presidents in Latin America are calling for open debate on alternatives to drug prohibition. Many countries in Europe have implemented public health strategies like safe injection facilities and prescribing medical heroin to reduce HIV/AIDS and overdose deaths. Both red and blue states are reducing their prison populations by offering alternatives to jail for low-level drug offenses.

Everyone has a reason to oppose and be outraged by the failed drug war. We need to step up our efforts, grow our numbers, and continue to win hearts and minds because the casualties from the war continue to grow every day. And the war on drugs is not going to end itself.

Tony Newman is communications director for the Drug Policy Alliance.