Ending the War on Drugs: By The Numbers Notes (Eva)


  • President Nixon called for a war on drugs in 1971
    • Harsher sentencing laws and increased enforcement actions
  • Consequences are much more detrimental for communities of color

War on Drugs

  • Someone is arrested for drug possession every 25 seconds in America
  • In 2015, the number of yearly drug arrests reached 1.3 million
  • 456,000 individuals are serving time for drug charges
    • Another 1.15 million are on parole or probation for drug-related offenses
  • Rather than reducing drug use overall, incarceration has been linked with drug overdoses
    • In the first two weeks after being released from prison, individuals are 13 times more likely to die than the general population, and the leading cause of death is drug overdose
    • During that period, individuals are 129% more likely to die from a drug overdose than the general population

Racial Disparities

  • Black Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana charges than their white peers
  • Black Americans make up almost 30% of drug-related arrests, despite accounting for only 12.5% of substance users
  • Almost 80% of people serving time for a federal drug offense are black or Latino
    • In state prisons, people of color make up 60% of those serving time for drug charges
  • The average black defendant in the federal system will serve almost as much time for a nonviolent drug offense as their white counterparts will for a violent offense 
  • POC account for 70% of all defendants convicted for charges with a mandatory minimum sentence
  • Prosecutors are twice as likely to pursue a charge with an attached mandatory minimum sentence for a black person as for a white person charged with the same crime

Economic Impact

  • Since 1971, the war on drugs has cost the United States roughly $1 trillion
  • In 2015, the federal government spent $9.2 million DAILY to incarcerate people charged with drug offenses
  • State governments spent $7 billion in 2015 on drug incarcerations
    • North Carolina spent more than $70 million incarcerating people for drug-related charges
    • Georgia spent $78.6 million just to lock up POC for drug offenses
  • The legalization of marijuana would save $7.7 billion yearly in averted enforcement costs
    • The tax revenue would yield an additional $6 billion
    • The total yield could send more than 650,000 students to public universities

The Opioid Epidemic

  • 11.6 million Americans misused prescription opioids or heroin in 2015
  • Around 3.6% of adolescents and 7.3% of young adults reported opioid misuse in the last year
  • A person dies every 16 minutes in America due to an opioid overdose
  • In 2016, 42,249 Americans died from opioid overdoses
  • Americans account for less than 5% of the world’s population but consume 80% of opioids produced globally
  • Opioid deaths increased by 48% nationwide from 2014 to 2016
    • Fatalities are on the rise in communities of color
    • During this period, opioid deaths rose by nearly 53% among Latinos and 84% among blacks
  • The opioid epidemic costs the United States an estimated $504 billion per year
  • Doctors wrote 259 opiate prescriptions in 2012
  • Deaths due to prescription painkillers increased 400% among women from 1999 to 2010
  • There was a surge in fentanyl overdoses in 2015

Impact of Interventions

Harm Reduction

  • The expansion of the ability of naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug, has reduced the number of fatalities in many jurisdictions
    • First responders in New York City save approximately 180 lives monthly by administering naloxone
    • A program in Massachusetts reduced fatalities by 11% by distributing naloxone to individuals at risk of opioid overdose
  • Syringe access programs significantly reduce the number of blood-borne diseases spread through needle sharing
    • Washington state observed an 80% drop in new diagnoses of Hepatitis B and C after implementing syringe access programs
  • More than 60 international cities now operate SIFs
    • Supervised injection facilities, known as SIFs, are safe, hygienic, places where individuals can inject preobtained drugs under medical supervision
    • These facilities have proven successful in connecting individuals with treatment programs as well as reducing fatalities and blood-borne disease

Drug Courts

  • There are more than 3,100 drug courts nationwide
    • These are specialized programs that can reduce recidivism by sentencing defendants to substance use treatment, supportive services, and supervision and monitoring instead of incarceration
  • A national evaluation of drug courts found that 26% less likely to report substance use after completing the program


Pearl, Betsy. “Ending the War on Drugs: By the Numbers.” Center for American Progress, 27 June 2018, 09:00, http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/criminal-justice/reports/2018/06/27/452819/ending-war-drugs-numbers/.

1 Comment

  1. Eva, I don’t see an MLA citation or any page numbers or quoted materials here. Let me know if you need a hand with any of the citations. Or with organizing your time for this week’s research push.


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