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Useful Notes / The War on Drugs

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"Truth is the first casualty of war, and the war on drugs is no different. Every day both the print and broadcast media bombard the public with a perspective and narrative which has proved to be devastating. This diet of cultural influence and propaganda is unremitting."
Dominic Trott, The Drug User’s Bible

Drugs Are Bad. Chances are, you’ve heard that a hundred times: from your parents, your school, police officers, the government, and the TV shows you watched as a kid. And if you live in the United States, there’s a laundry list of psychoactive drugs that are highly illegal to buy, sell or possess. Much of this can be attributed to the “War on Drugs”, a U.S.-led campaign to eradicate the distribution and usage of illegal substances within the country.

In 1971, in the face of growing rates of addiction among U.S. citizens, President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse to be “public enemy number one”. Since then, the United States has spent over one trillion dollars attempting to disrupt the drug trade, prosecuting and incarcerating offenders, and spreading public awareness about the follies of addiction. On the media side, this involved everything from informative Public Service Announcements, to scare tactics being inserted into children's television and comic books.

The War on Drugs is responsible for a lot of Very Special Episodes, spearheaded by groups such as D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) and the Partnership to End Addiction, and nationwide anti-drug campaigns such as “Just Say No”. These were primarily meant to teach younger audiences about drug use and abuse, and as such, tended to be very Anvilicious, often featuring an Aggressive Drug Dealer or a character’s Descent into Addiction. In hindsight, many of them are inaccurate and/or lacking in nuance, with poor portrayals of how drugs actually work, or why people tend to fall into addiction. Meanwhile, as police officers and the newly-founded Drug Enforcement Administration worked to disrupt trafficking operations, drug lords and The Cartel became the new face of villains in a lot of action flicks.

Today, many people consider the War on Drugs to be a disaster: not only has it failed to prevent drug proliferation in the U.S., but it’s also had an overwhelmingly negative effect on the nation’s lower-class citizens. With emphasis being placed on punishment rather than rehabilitation, addicts are routinely sent to prison for nonviolent crimes, where they are trapped in a cycle of addiction and incarceration. Anti-drug laws have had a disproportionately large effect on black and Latino communities, who allege that such policies have drastically increased surveillance and over-policing. (More recently, allegations have risen that Nixon intended to harm these communities when he started the War on Drugs.)note  The U.S. legal system is clogged with countless drug-related arrests, and prisons have grown routinely overcrowded. And despite massive amounts of money being spent to combat trafficking, many illegal drugs are still widely available on the black market, and the drugs' illegality has only empowered cartels. Many nations, such as Mexico, Colombia, and Laos, have suffered horrific violence due to competition between various cartels over control of distribution, contributing to economic and refugee crises. As of 2021, the large majority of American voters believe the policies behind the “war on drugs” should end, supporting addressing drug usage as a public health issue first and foremost rather than a criminal justice one.

With the days of Very Special Episodes being long past, modern media tends to show the darker side of the War on Drugs, highlighting its failures and the negative impacts it's had on everyday people — one example being The Wire.

Not to be confused with the indie rock band, The War on Drugs.