Why Drug Prohibition is Killing People

If the United States were to legalize heroin and other natural or semisynthetic opioids, the benefit to society would be enormous. Aside from alcohol, psychoactive drugs have been in a state of full or partial prohibition for over 100 years. The results have been disastrous for the country. In the time it takes to read this, someone in the United States will die from a completely preventable opioid overdose. They most likely hid their addiction from everyone they knew while it was possible to do so, everyone who loved them, and those who would have been able to help. If it were to legalize drugs, the United States would save millions of lives, benefit financially, and join other modern, western nations that do not persecute medical conditions.

The Opium Poppy is Naturally-Occurring


Drug use has been an issue in American society for generations. Current policies of prohibition have failed to curb drug use, having instead created and fueled a black market that profits from addiction and crime. Legalizing drugs would bring their use out into the open, reduce the harm associated with drug use, and decrease the social and economic costs of the war on drugs. Before 1914, it was possible to buy heroin at a corner store without a prescription. This ended with the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, which criminalized the possession for sale of any narcotic, which at the time included morphine, heroin, and other derivatives of the poppy plant, and other narcotics. [Benson, Bruce] Since then, the government has categorically added drugs and drug classes, making most illegal for sale or distribution without a physician’s prescription.

A narcotic tax stamp

Understanding how the United States went from a country that allowed its citizens to purchase heroin from the corner shop to a nation that punished drug users and dealers alike with some of the harshest sentences of any other crimes [Martins, Silvia] is a complex subject. Many people think the United States’ strict drug laws were enacted to save lives, but the data shows that they are having the opposite effect.

The laws surrounding drug use used to be different

Current Policies are Killing People

Legalizing drug use would save countless lives. The vast majority of drug overdoses are unintentional, [Martins, Silvia] Carfentanil is the newest form of opioid that is being found in toxicology reports, and it is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 5,000 times more potent than heroin. The difference between the amount required to produce a pleasant euphoria and the amount required to produce death is too small for the eye to see. Legalization would allow regulation of the contents.

Because they’re illegal, every time someone uses drugs, they’re taking unnecessary risk

Because illegal products can’t be regulated, they are infinitely more dangerous. Were drugs legal, they could be labeled with their contents, and users would know how much of a particular substance they were ingesting. During alcohol prohibition, which also failed, people resorted to home-brewing spirits. Oftentimes distillation was incorrectly performed which led to unwanted toxins in the product. “Bathtub gin”, so named because the initial fermentation was often carried out in bathtubs, was known to produce many unwanted side effects due to impurities in the final product. The government realized that prohibition wasn’t working for alcohol, and in 1933, the 21st Amendment was passed, and alcohol was safely regulated thereafter. Thanks to this regulation, today, when someone buys beer, liquor, or spirits, they know precisely how much alcohol they are consuming. By legalizing drugs and combining this with the harm reduction initiatives that some locales are already implementing, people could safely administer a known quantity of the drug of their choosing. Incidentally, legalizing substances also allows them to be taxed.

Drugs could be safely produced, regulated, and labeled

Legalizing drugs would save billions of dollars per year in money currently being allocated for fighting cartels and gangs, paying the police, prosecuting offenders, and housing prisoners. It would also generate millions, if not billions of dollars more in tax revenue. According to estimates, the United States currently spends 51 billion dollars every year fighting the war on drugs. In aggregate, the nation has spent over one trillion dollars fighting this battle.[Mann, Brian] This money would be saved if drugs were legalized, and some of the funds currently being allocated towards fighting human behavior could be used to fund other, more effective methods of managing addiction, such as prevention, drug treatment for those individuals who want it, or abstinence programs.

The Cost Analysis of Prohibition

Therapy is more beneficial than prison

The United States currently has 1.1 million active heroin users according to a study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.[NIDA] However, in reality, this number may be much higher as collection techniques require people to voluntarily identify themselves as participants in currently illegal activities. Regardless of the actual number, if taxes were paid on the drugs that are already being consumed, the amount of revenue collected would be hundreds of millions of dollars per year. These figures don’t take into account all of the additional revenue created by the industries that would blossom in a free drug market. For these reasons, legalizing drugs would have an enormous positive effect on the financial state of the country, as well as the lives of drug users.

Billions of dollars per year would be saved and more would be generated

Finally, according to the World Health Organization, addiction is considered an acquired condition, much like diabetes. Therefore, the United States’ current policy is to imprison those who exhibit symptoms of an illness. At the very least, the government should focus on rehabilitation and education instead of punishment and coercion, as the former are more likely to have the desired effect [Waal, Helge]. In effect, the United States remains one of the last Western nations that  criminally prosecutes people for being sick.

Why are we Persecuting the Sick

Addiction is a disease

According to the relevant data, a legalization or harm-reduction approach is much more likely to reduce and control usage levels than our current policy of prohibition. Opponents of drug legalization often rely on fuzzy data and scare tactics to bolster their agendas. They claim that were drugs legal, many more people would become addicted to, and possibly die of, drugs. However, this is not the case, as other Western nations have already taken this long-overdue step, and the results speak for themselves.[Waal, Helge] In virtually every category, drug use is less of a problem for these countries. Their populations seem not only to experience no significant increase in drug consumption due to decriminalization, but those who continue to use drugs can purchase safer substances and do so without fear of criminal repercussions. By legalizing and subsequently regulating drugs, they have turned what was once a scourge for their people into a boon for their societies. As previously discussed, were the United States to follow suit, it would free up billions of dollars of funding currently being spent on the war on drugs. Some of this money could be used to fund rehabilitation services for those who want them, job training programs for those convicted of the now-legal activities associated with drug use, or even child care services for addicts. As society’s attitude towards drugs and drug users changes,
so too would associated industries.

The Free Market offers more options than the government ever could


In conclusion, the prohibition of drugs has been a costly, dangerous, and ineffective approach to controlling drug use and curtailing addiction. Rather than reducing drug use, it has led to death, financial ruin for the country, and health risks for individuals and communities. Furthermore, it has failed in its intended goal of curtailing drug use. Ending drug prohibition, regulating substances, and shifting towards a harm reduction approach would create a new source of wealth for the government and private sector, and promote safety for the public. As we have seen in other nations, this is not only more effective but also makes much more sense from a financial perspective. Instead of fighting drug use, they have shown that it is possible to coexist with drugs and even benefit from their presence. Given the United States’ history of being an ingenuitive nation, having robust personal rights for its citizens, and constant striving for economic growth, this is a change that will become necessary if we are to continue
down that path.

Works Cited

Benson, Bruce L., and David W. Rasmussen. Predatory Public Finance and the Origins of the War on Drugs. The Independent Institute, 1996.

Mann, Brian (June 17, 2021). “After 50 Years Of The War On Drugs, ‘What Good Is It Doing For Us?'”

Martins, Silvia S., et al. “Worldwide prevalence and trends in unintentional drug overdose: a systematic review of the literature.” American Journal of public health 105.11 (2015): e29-e49.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Heroin Research Report. A comprehensive Research Report on the prevalence of heroin consumption in the United States. 18 June 2018.

Waal, Helge. “Open drug scenes: responses of five European cities.” BMC Public Health, vol. 1, no. 1, 2014, p. 12.

Published by antiprohibit

| Anti-Drug Prohibition | Harm Reduction | End the War on Drugs | Substances aren't the Problem | It's high time for change |

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