For 50 years, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been at the forefront of the War on Drugs, tackling drug-related crime and attempting to reduce the availability of narcotics within the United States. But, as the agency marks its milestone 50th anniversary this year, it’s also worth noting that despite the DEA’s long-standing mission, the drug war remains unresolved.
1. DEA: 50 Years of Failure in the Fight Against Drugs
In the 50 years since Drug Enforcement Administration’s existence, the organization has come up against an unwinnable task. The War on Drugs that they inherited has been seen as a failure, and it has been challenged by many. These are just some of the grim failures of the DEA in the previous half-century.
- The DEA has been unable to reduce the number of drug users.
- Visitations to emergency rooms due to drug use have become increasingly frequent.
- Overdoses and deaths due to drug use continue to rise.
Proponents of ending the War on Drugs might campaign for the DEA’s replacement or dissolution. But its failure to tackle drugs is symptomatic of the system, rather than personal responsibility. Prisons are overflowing, and addiction has reached epidemic levels. It is no secret that the drug business has become heavily embedded in the black market.
The DEA shows us that the only real winners in the fight against drugs are those who run the cartels and drug syndicates. The organization has only incentivized what it has been meant to end. With no end in sight, the next 50 years of DEA are likely to be as disheartening, if not worse, than the previous.
2. Tracing the History of the Drug War Through Five Decades of Futility
The modern ‘war on drugs’ began in 1971 when President Richard M. Nixon declared drug abuse ‘public enemy number one’. Many experts have since regarded this moment as ushering in an era of decades-long futility.
The intervening years have brought little to suggest a successful conclusion any time soon. Through the turbulent yet polarizing ‘Just Say No’ eighties to the intensive fanfare of ‘three strikes’ mantras through the nineties, the drug war has only become more entrenched. These major policy initiatives have only been more effective at deepening the divide between public opinion and a resolution to the strife.
- 70s: Nixon’s War on Drugs
- 80s: Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’
- 90s: ‘Three Strikes’
- 00s: Bush & Mandatory Minimums
- 10s: Obama & Pot Decriminalization
Even as newfound drugs like fentanyl have surged and the opioid crisis has become an international crisis, the war remains in a stalemate. Cannabis has found its way into the spotlight as the most recently contentious issue. With several states having legalised ‘pot’ in some form, the tide of public opinion stands in stark contrast to the federal stance. The pendulum is still swinging, but far away from the peace at the end of the tunnel.
3. Was It Worth It? DEA Anniversaries and Mounting Drug Issues
At the start of 2021, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is celebrating its 50 year anniversary. The DEA was formed in response to growing concern about the illegal narcotics trade, specifically heroin and marijuana. Fifty years on and despite major successes in disrupting the drug networks, the US are still dealing with ever increasing issues of drug use and abuse, leaving many to question, was it worth it?
The Impact of the DEA
The DEA’s founding has made a huge impact on how drug-related offenses are handled. Through their nationwide network of special agents and investigations, the DEA has been able to cut off the supply of drugs from many of its most prolific producers, as well as hundreds of smaller networks. This has had the additional benefit of decreasing many further connected criminal activities, such as money laundering, trafficking and associated violence. These successes are testament to the hard work and dedication of the DEA members.
An Increasing Problem
However, the unfortunate truth is that the challenge of illegal drug use persists. The illegal drug trade is now a multi-billion dollar industry that encompasses both local and international organizations, meaning that the DEA’s work is far from over. With hard drugs such as fentanyl becoming ever more popular, so too does the potential for these dangerous substances to fall into the wrong hands. This is leaving the nation questioning if 50 years of DEA involvement has been worth its efforts, and the answer is far from certain.
4. Finding a New Way to Combat Illegal Drug Use: Is It Possible?
Finding a new way to combat illegal drug use is a great challenge. But is it possible? There are a few new strategies that have emerged in recent years.
- Focus on Prevention – Reducing the demand for drugs is essential to combatting illegal drug use.This means providing education and resources to help individuals make healthier and more informed decisions.
- Treat Drug Use as a Health Issue – Rather than punish drug addiction, encourage people with a drug addiction to seek rehabilitation. By providing assistance to individuals struggling with addiction, as well as referring them to professional help, the cycle of drug use can be broken.
The most effective solution to combat illegal drug use is a combination of reducing demand and offering help. This requires a focus on prevention and access to resources, rather than punishment and criminalization. If the right steps are taken, change is possible.
As the DEA celebrates its 50-year anniversary, we can only hope that the agency takes stock of the successes and lessons learned from its past and uses them to inform its future. Only then can the Drug War be won.