New Government Survey Shows Illegal Drug Use Rates Holding Steady; But Drug War Critics Point to Overwhelming Failure

Press Release September 6, 2006
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Bill Piper at (202) 669-6430

The federal government’s latest estimates of the number of Americans who use illegal drugs finds that illegal drug use rates are holding steady overall. While government officials find reason to be optimistic in some areas, they also find reasons to be pessimistic in others. For instance, fewer teens are using marijuana, but more young adults are using cocaine and illegal prescription drugs. The nation’s largest drug policy reform organization, the Drug Policy Alliance, is urging policymakers to look beyond drug use rates.

“What matters most is not whether drug use rates go up or down, but whether the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with both drugs and drug prohibition goes up or down,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The war on drugs continues to cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year with nothing to show for it except broken families, overflowing jail cells and increasing drug overdoses.”

Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars and incarcerating millions of Americans, experts acknowledge that drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available in every community. Meanwhile, the harms associated with drug abuse–addiction, overdose and the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis–continue to mount. Add to this record of failure the collateral damage of the war on drugs–broken families, racial disparities, wasted tax dollars, and the erosion of civil liberties–and critics claim that it is foolish and irresponsible to claim success.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, if the government were serious about the health and welfare of its citizens, it would immediately take the following steps:

“The government’s current approach to drugs, with its drug free rhetoric and over-reliance on punitive, criminal justice policies costs billions more each year yet delivers less and less,” said Piper. “It’s time for a new bottom line in drug policy, one that focuses on reducing the harms associated with both drug abuse and the war on drugs.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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