Statistics from the War on Drugs Tell a Story

Banner across US city street reads “Drug Dealers Get Out”
Drug Dealers Get Out!. Erika Stone / Getty Images

In 1971, President Richard Nixon first declared a national “war on drugs,” and greatly increased the size and authority of federal government drug control agencies.

Since 1988, the U.S. war against illegal drugs has been coordinated by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). The director of the ONDCP plays the real-life role of America's Drug Czar.

Created by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, the ONDCP advises the President of the United States on drug-control issues, coordinates drug-control activities and related funding across the Federal government, and produces the annual National Drug Control Strategy, which outlines Administration efforts to reduce illicit drug use, manufacturing and trafficking, drug-related crime and violence, and drug-related health consequences.

Under the coordination of the ONDCP, the following federal agencies play key enforcement and advisory roles in the War on Drugs:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Bureau of Justice Assistance
Drug Enforcement Agency
United States Customs and Border Protection
National Institute on Drug Abuse
U.S. Coast Guard

Are We Winning?

Today, as drug abusers continue to flood America’s prisons and violent drug crimes devastate neighborhoods, many people criticize the effectiveness of War on Drugs.

However, actual statistics suggest that without the War on Drugs, the problem may be even worse.

For example, during fiscal year 2015, Customs and Border Protection alone reported seizing:

  • 135,943 pounds of cocaine;
  • 2,015 pounds of heroin;
  • 6,135 pounds of methamphetamine; and
  • 4,330,475 (Yes, 4.3 million) pounds of marijuana.

During fiscal year 2014, the Drug Enforcement Agency seized:

  • 74,450 pounds of cocaine;
  • 2, 248 pounds of heroin;
  • 6,494 pounds of methamphetamine; and
  • 163,638 pounds of marijuana.

(The discrepancy in marijuana seizures is attributable to the fact that Customs and Border Protection has the main responsibility for intercepting the drug as it flows into the U.S. from Mexico.)

In addition, the ONDCP reported that during 1997, U.S. law enforcement agencies seized an estimated $512 million in illegal drug trade-related cash and property.

So does the seizure of 2,360 tons of illegal drugs by two federal agencies in just two years indicate the success or utter futility of the War on Drugs?

Despite the volume of drugs seized, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported an estimated 1,841,200 state and local arrests for drug abuse violations in the United States during 2007.

But whether the War on Drugs has been a smashing success or a dismal failure, it has been expensive.

Funding the War

In fiscal year 1985, the annual federal budget allocated $1.5 billion to fighting illegal drug use, trafficking and drug-related crime.

By fiscal year 2000, that figure had increased to $17.7 billion, increasing by almost $3.3 billion per year.

Jump to fiscal year 2016, when President Obama’s budget included $27.6 billion to support the National Drug Control Strategy, an increase of $1.2 billion (4.7%) above fiscal year 2015 funding.

In February 2015, U.S. Drug Czar and director of the Obama administration’s ONDCP Michael Botticelli attempted to justify the expenditure in his confirmation address to the Senate.

“Earlier this month, President Obama in his 2016 Budget requested historic levels of funding -- including $133 million in new funds -- to address the opioid misuse epidemic in the U.S. Using a public health framework as its foundation, our strategy also acknowledges the vital role that federal state and local law enforcement play in reducing the availability of drugs -- another risk factor for drug use,” said Botticelli. “It underscores the vital importance of primary prevention in stopping drug use before it ever begins by funding prevention efforts across the country.”

Botticelli added that the expenditure was intended to remove the “systemic challenges” that had historically held back progress in the War on Drugs:

  • Over-criminalization of illegal drug use;
  • lack of integration with mainstream medical care;
  • lack of insurance coverage for drug abuse treatment; and
  • legal barriers that make it difficult for people once involved with the criminal justice system to rebuild their lives.

A recovering alcoholic himself, Botticelli urged the millions of Americans in substance abuse recovery to “come out” and demand to be treated like people with non-abuse related chronic diseases.

“By putting faces and voices to the disease of addiction and the promise of recovery, we can lift the curtain of conventional wisdom that continues to keep too many of us hidden and without access to lifesaving treatment,” he said. 

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Your Citation
Longley, Robert. "Statistics from the War on Drugs Tell a Story." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Longley, Robert. (2021, February 16). Statistics from the War on Drugs Tell a Story. Retrieved from Longley, Robert. "Statistics from the War on Drugs Tell a Story." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 8, 2021).