July 14, 2022 – Amid a century-long drug war in the United States, things are getting worse.

Currently, over 100,000 annual deaths are attributed to “overdose,” most involving more than one drug. That’s a 16-fold increase since I was born, in 1980, and the highest number in US history. Yet the people with the loudest voices promote the same ineffective responses: Lock sellers up and hire more police officers. Continue racist enforcement. And block people who use drugs from policy conversations.

Each year, the US spends upwards of $300 billion on the criminal-legal system, much of it devoted to the drug war. Nearly half of people incarcerated in federal facilities and nearly one fifth of those in state prisons or local jails are incarcerated over a banned substance. Countless more, like me, were arrested for theft or DUI, crimes which allowed our issues with addiction to be ignored in favor of torture over treatment. 

There are two main ways for a war to end: victory or defeat.

Victory is the strategy which the US has mercilessly deployed for more than a century, and despite trillions of dollars and millions of lives lost, victory on the drug war’s own terms is no closer than when it began. We currently arrest someone for a drug crime every 35 seconds. For all these efforts, banned drugs today are more common and more potent—per the Iron Law of Prohibition—than they were 50 years ago. The conflicts have been waged largely against poor people, people of color, and those who don’t live inside the United States, while many rich folks wouldn’t know the drug war exists at all if it weren’t for the news.


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