The War On Drugs "It's not a war on drugs, it's a war on personal freedom." Bill Hicks.

What is the "War on Drugs?"

A phrase that refers to the U.S. government's campaign to stop the import, production, sale, and use of illegal drugs.

Efforts include severe penalties for people who possess drugs and who sell drugs and increased border patrols to prevent drugs from entering the country.

Ronald-Reagan-Speech On The War on drugs

In his speech, he addressed the importance of combatting illegal drugs and the damaging effect on the youth.

Ronald Reagan's wife, Nancy, continued the war on drugs in the 1980s. Slogans saying, "Just say no," became popular.

"Just say no"

President Richard Nixon started the campaign on the war on drugs. He was a strong opposer of illegal drugs in the United States and callled it "America's #1 public enemy."

Nixon's War on Drugs


  • Richard Nixon declared the "War on Drugs."
  • On June 17,1971: Claimed that "America's public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse."
  • The War on Drugs involved a rapid intervention in the domestic, political, and military affairs of foreign states.
  • The war on drugs intensified more during the administration of Ronald Reagan (1981-1989.)
  • On October 2,1982 President Ronald Reagan announced that his administration would expand the war on drugs.
  • He named Vice President George H.W. Bush the chief coordinator of drug policy.
  • Bush worked along with different federal organizations, such as: DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol.
  • Once in office, Bush concentrated on targeting the drug users themselves.
Nixon Declares a 'War on Drugs'


  • Nixon immedietely responded to the domestic drug issue by passing the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
  • This act created a system whereby the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) & the Food and Drug Administration classified different drugs according to their potential effect for abuse and harm.
DEA ( Drug Enforcement Administration)
The Controlled Substances Act

When/ Why

  • The market for illegal drugs expanded greatly during the 1940s and 1950s, but there was little concern in the mainstream society until the 1960s and 1970s.
  • During the 60s and 70s there was a rapid increase in consumption rates, particularly among upper- and middle- class young people.
  • There was a huge upsurge in illicit drug use, both among soldiers serving in the Vietnam War and at home.
  • Many began to talk about the legalization of drugs.
  • The new "drug of choice" of the 70s and 80s became cocaine, a highly addictive and destructive drug based on its few short-term side effects.
  • High Consumption of Marijuana and Hallucinogenic Drugs.
  • It was against this background that Richard Nixon came to power and campaigned his "War on Drugs."
A drug user prepares the illegal drug heroin for injection

What Impact did the event have on history?

Mass Incarceration (Massive Increase in the U.S Prison population.)

Since 1980 the number of prisoners has nearly doubled every decade. This can be attributed to the term coined by Richard Nixon "The War On Drugs."

The economic cost of mass incarceration has been disproportionately borne by poor people,males, and minorities. Too often making a trap for generations of poor families.

Having a parent in prison increases the likelihood of homelessness and poverty, therefore, putting these children at a high risk of going to prison and again resetting the same cycle of poverty.

Rose from 1Mil 250K in 1981 to 3Mil in 1991. Just a matter of 10 years!

Who did it affect?

-Drug Users

-Federal and State Prisons

The United States Government (Spending billions of dollars each year to):

Increase the number of drug arrests and convictions

Build more prisons to house drug offenders

What other events or changes in society did it lead to?

- The War On Drugs being matched by Reagan's domestic approach, the practice of international intervention was expanded, especially in the cocaine exporting countries of South Africa.

- Huge Increase in Mass Incarceration meant that the federal government and state government spent billion of dollars for paying for prisoners time in jail.

- The War of Drugs resulted in the creation of a permanent underclass of people who had few job opportunities because of drug offenses

Why is it a meaningful event in history?

The War on Drugs is meaningful for various reasons:

Manufacturers, Distributors, and Users of illegal drugs will be severely penalized

Paved the road for federal funding on drug abuse treatment

The Fight of Legalization and a 'War on Drugs' continues to this day

Sources (United States History In Context)

- "Illegal Drugs." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History, edited by Thomas Riggs, 2nd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2015, pp. 582-585. U.S. History in Context, Accessed 27 Apr. 2017.

"Mass Incarceration." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History, edited by Thomas Riggs, 2nd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2015, pp. 763-765. U.S. History in Context, Accessed 27 Apr. 2017.

"Prison Industrial Complex." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History, edited by Thomas Riggs, 2nd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2015, pp. 1048-1050. U.S. History in Context, Accessed 27 Apr. 2017.

"President Nixon Declares 'War' on Drugs." Medicine, Health, and Bioethics: Essential Primary Sources, edited by K. Lee Lerner and Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, Gale, 2006, pp. 297-300. U.S. History in Context, Accessed 27 Apr. 2017.

Sources (Biography)

Debra Lucas Muscoreil. "War on Drugs." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, Gale, 2013. Biography in Context, Accessed 27 Apr. 2017.

Created By
Alan Aguirre-Sullivan

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