Drug Abuse and Trafficking in America

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Drug abuse has become not only a regional issue. Rather, the whole world is crying foul over the devastating effects of drug abuse. Drug trafficking barons have always found themselves on the negative side of the law due to their involvement in the drug trade (Bagley, 2005). Drug abuse and trafficking have had negative effects on individuals and the society as a whole. Moral decadency, increased incarceration and interdiction are observed in environments where drug trade is common. The biggest debate has been whether countries have been successful in their war against drugs. Whereas some people view drug prohibition as the best approach, others view decriminalization and regulation as the best options for drug users and traffickers (Voth, 2005). This paper examines the overall war against drug abuse and trafficking.

Authoritative Prohibition

The debate on whether to adopt prohibitive laws or regulatory laws on drug abuse has been there since the times of antiquity. Alternatives to drug prohibition have been sought by policy makers, journalists and the general public. Decriminalization and drug regulation are possible alternatives. The history of the American experiences in regards to drug prohibition is vitally important (Voth, 2005). Campaigns to endorse the prohibition law started in the mid 19th century. The Anti-Saloon League was formed to spearhead the campaigns. In 1918, the act on prohibition was endorsed and it outlawed the manufacture as well as the sale of illicit beverages whose alcohol content was more than 2.75%. Later in 1919, the Volstead Act was passed by the Congress.

Consequently, any alcoholic beverage that exceeded 0.5 % alcohol content was rendered intoxicating liquor. Prohibition was not enacted on medical grounds. Rather, moral reasons were given by the prohibitionists. They were of the view that alcohol manufacture and sale were to blame for American social and economic problems. Prohibiting the sale and manufacture of alcohol was therefore important. The citizens opposed the prohibition laws long before the enactment of the Volstead Act. The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA) was formed in 1926 to spearhead prohibition repeal campaigns (Voth, 2005). Through the association, wealthy and prominent supporters were involved. The repealing of the Volstead Act was thus accelerated.

Drug prohibition leads to the driving out of weaker drugs, and accommodates extensive use of dangerous drugs. This is true because weaker drugs are usually bulky, difficult to smuggle and offer low remuneration. Drug barons therefore involve themselves in the hard drugs business (Bagley, 2005). Increased interdiction efforts have made it difficult for people to smuggle marijuana. Consequently most drug barons smuggle cocaine or heroin. This is due to reduced interdiction and increased remunerative benefits. The Volstead Act was however limited in scope. Whereas people were discouraged from taking beer, the middle class increased their consumption of hard liquor (Voth, 2005).

Constitutional alcohol prohibition is quite different from drug prohibition. Whereas the former is concerned with one substance, alcohol, the latter encompasses all the other types of drugs. The repealing of alcohol prohibition came in 1932. Subsequently, opiates and cocaine were criminalized in 1935. In addition marijuana, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and Ecstasy were criminalized in 1950, 1980 and 1984 respectively. Before alcohol prohibition, half of America’s population drank. This trend continued even when the prohibition law was active. In addition, local police were also disadvantaged by the law. This is because most of them drank.

The contention in the War on Drugs has been there since when drug prohibition came into force. A study conducted in 2008 showed that a quarter of America’s population believed that the War on Drugs was futile. Increased levels of violent crimes, wasted government funds, illegality of drug policies and violation of civil liberties have been cited to emanate from the war (Voth, 2005). However supporters of the war argue that families and society have been protected, human productivity improved and social conditions bettered.

Arrests and Incarceration

Several prevention efforts and initiatives have been put in place to ensure that drug abuse and trafficking levels are contained (Bagley, 2005). The US is considered the second in terms of incarceration levels. Most incarcerated people find themselves imprisoned for drug related crimes. The incarceration of one million Americans was associated with the War on Drugs in 1994. It is important to note that a quarter of these was in possession of marijuana. Similarly, the arrest of 1.5 million drug offenders in 2008 saw the imprisonment of 500,000.Collateral consequences in the form of denial of public benefits are also imposed. Marijuana related arrests accounted for 50% of the total drug arrests between 1990 and 2002.

International Drug Control Cooperation

International programs have been proposed in the War on Drugs agenda (Dobkin, 2009). The programs aim at averting production, trafficking and abuse of drugs. In addition, they also put in place mechanisms curb corruption, environmental degradation and environmental distortion associated with drugs. Several regional and global accords have been initiated to effectively address anti-drug campaigns.

The international community is demystifying the notion that USA is the largest trading partner in drug trade. It should be noted that only 2% of drug consumers come from the USA. The required that certification be done on an annual basis has helped in enforcing the policy on America’s international narcotics control. Consequently, the law allows the President to identify countries that contravene the 1988 U.N Drug Convention. Such countries may face economic sanctions. This initiative has made the USA step up its efforts in the local and international narcotics control.

The Intercontinental Anti-Drug Agreement

In 1998, the United States Drug Control Strategy was approved. It was designed to operate on a ten-year framework. The main objective was to reduce the supply and demand of illicit drugs (Bagley, 2005). A balanced approached in the reduction of drug abuse levels was emphasized. In addition, the supply of drugs was to be minimized to counter drug trafficking. The drug problem and demand reduction of drugs are related. The United Nations International Drug Control Programme advocates for the “Guiding Principles on Drug Demand Reduction”. In view of this, the illegal drug problem in the USA will be a thing of the past.

Promoting International Demand Reduction

No single government can fight the War on Drugs on its own. The United States has always promoted and supported major initiatives that propose the introduction of drug prevention education. The Consejo Publicitario Argentino, in Argentina, the Parceria Contra Drogas in Brazil, and the Alianza para una Venezuela sin drogas in Venezuela are good examples. In view of this, the US generated more than $ 120 million in anti-drug campaigns. The United States Information Agency employs public diplomacy in its campaign against drug abuse and trafficking.

Supporting Democracy and Human Rights

Political, economic and social stability plays a crucial role in the War against Drugs (Dobkin, 2009). Studies have shown that effective democratic institutions nurture coherent anti-drug policies. The ambassadors are responsible for most international counter-drug missions. Consequently, foreign policy goals aim at promotion of democracy and human rights protection. The USA provides training and resources needed in the fight against drug abuse and trafficking. This privilege is however enjoyed by countries that have the political will to fight drug-trafficking.

Bilateral Cooperation with Mexico

The US and Mexico have over the past strengthened their ties. This development has worked well for USA. It should be noted that most hard drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, and heroine find their way into the USA through Mexico (Dobkin, 2009). Mexico is largely to blame for all the drugs consumed in the USA. The drug trade is responsible for the firearms exchange between the two nations. The comprehensive U.S.-Mexico Binational Drug Strategy was adopted in 1998. This was an improved version of Binational Drug Threat Assessment and the U.S.-Mexico Alliance Against Drugs signed in 1997 (Hickman, 2000). The agreement was an instrument to address drug challenges.

The federal and state governments have been criticized for placing much emphasis on punishment rather than prevention. The War on Drugs has contributed to the rise of the black market (Dobkin, 2009). The criticism came at a time when the US drug-control budget reached 18.4 billion dollars in 2000. This catered for the financing of the domestic law enforcement agents; police and prosecutors. The year 2003 drug-control budget was characterized by 53% accounting for anti-drug enforcement, 29% accounting for treatment and 18% accounting for prevention. The body is known as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) conducted a survey on drug abusers in 2004 (Hickman, 2000).

The survey revealed that drug users who remained on long-term treatment were unlikely to abuse drugs in future. The National Drug Control Strategy issued in 2004 supports treatment options, improves treatment outcomes and enhances treatment delivery (Peele, 2002). In addition, the Drug Courts Program received a 32 million dollar raise. This was to offer alternatives to drug related incarceration.

Several decades have passed since the prohibition laws were introduced. The drug menace has however been a challenge in modern time (Peele, 2002). The War on Drugs has not worked. In this regard, politicians, policy makers and bureaucrats have ignored the growing drug problem. The past two decades have witnessed the federal government inject $ 450 billion in various anti-drug activities. The efforts to have the drug demand reduced have been futile. The consumption of narcotic drugs has grown significantly. A study revealed that the drug consumers in USA stood at 18 million. Should the government adopt the supply-side drug policy or a demand-side policy?

“Supply side” or “Demand side” Strategy

The supply-side drug policy is that which places much emphasis on reducing the supply chains of narcotic drugs (Stonebraker, 2009). The policy has been criticized for its inability to counter the drug menace. It has been established that most international drug barons receive political and military support. The peasant farmers who grow the drug plants highly criticize moves to have the supply of the drugs reduced. This is because majority of them derive all their income from the drug trade. It is logical to argue that cocaine banned in Colombia, may be smuggled through Peru and Ecuador. Similarly eradicating poppy fields in Afghanistan may necessitate a replacement in Myanmar. The fact that most drugs may be grown in different regions should not be ignored. It has been noted that addicts are not sensitive to price.

The inelasticity of drug demand is matched by an insignificant drop in demand when the price increases. The government may control the quantity of drugs traded. This intervention temporarily decreases the supply and shortage are witnessed (Stonebraker, 2009). The price however goes up. Government policies that advocate for supply reduction of drugs are indeed detrimental and unworkable.

The best alternative to the supply-side policy is the demand-side policy. If the demand for drugs drops, the market is characterized by a surplus (Stonebraker, 2009). Consequently, the prices go down. Reduced prices discourage drug dealers from the business due to the low remuneration. Foreign bodies and organizations have argued that individuals drug users are to blame for the increased levels of drug trafficking. Solving the problem is ensuring that the demand for drugs is minimized. Anti-drug campaigns should be encouraged. In addition, drug treatment programs should be introduced.

Rehabilitation programs for drug dependent people are vitally important in demand reduction (Peele, 2002). Budget allocations must favor treatment, rather than incarceration efforts. Introduction of hefty taxes on first-time and normal drug users may work in favor of demand-sided policies. In addition, the youths should be job trained and offered economic assistance. This will avert idleness among the youth, thereby reducing the urge to abuse drugs.


In conclusion, it should be appreciated that drug abuse and trafficking have negative effects on individuals and the society. Prohibition of certain drugs enjoys a rich history. However, most people have criticized the application of prohibitive laws. They have supported drug regulation and treatment. Several local and international organizations and policies have been put in place to counter the effects of drug use and trade. Contention on whether the supply-side or demand-side is more appropriate is clear. Despite all the arguments, the demand-side strategy should be adopted in the War against Drugs.


Bagley, M. (2005). Drug Trafficking in the Americas. Florida: University of Miami North-South Center.

Dobkin, C. (2009).The War on Drugs: Methamphetamine, Public Health and Crime. American Economic Review, 99 (1), 340.

Hickman, T. (2000). Understanding Drug Use and Race in America: Orientalism in the Twentieth Century Discourse Drug Addiction. Journal of American Studies, 41 (1) 71-91.

Peele, S. (2002). The results for drug reform goals of shifting from interdiction/punishment to treatment. International Journal of Drug Policy, 19 (3), 43-56.

Stonebraker, R. (2009). Supply-Side Drug Policy: Will it ever Work? Winthrop University.

Voth, E. (2005). Drug Legalization, Harm Reduction, and Drug Policy. Annals of Internal Medicine, 123, 461-465.

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