By Mishael Williams

Since President Richard Nixon announced the War on Drugs (W.O.D) in 1971, there has been an aggressive approach towards tackling and handling the drug problem in the United States. For example, in his reelection campaign for 2024, former President Donald Trump has promised more strict federal practices to fight drug abuse: “We’re going to be asking [for] everyone who sells drugs, [or] gets caught selling drugs to receive the death penalty for their heinous acts”. In 2018, Jeff Sessions, Trump’s first Attorney general, sent out a memo to federal prosecutors to use existing death penalty statutes against drug traffickers. You’d think that because of the harsh approach towards drugs in the U.S that we would have made some decent progress since the start of the W.O.D, but many policy makers and even law enforcement officers disagree with that statement. According to an NPR article titled “After 50 Years of The War on Drugs, What Good Is It Doing For Us?”, NPR found that the opinion that the war “simply didn’t work” is a growing consensus among many. So why is it that this trillion dollar war is failing? One reason for this is because the federal government has been prioritizing and funding harsh punishments for the nation’s drug problem (prisons, court, police funding, arrests for possession) over funding rehab facilities, treatment for addicts, and valid education programs. In other words, the United States has prioritized consequences for the problem rather than a solution for it. Donald Trump is a great example of how the United States has been prioritizing consequences and intimidation over solutions. Forty percent of annual arrests in the US are drug related, and according to a 2007 U.N world report, Europeans overdosefewer than half the amount that Americans do, and the number of Europeans that use illicit drugs (addictive and illegal substances like Heroine, Cocaine and meth) is about half that of Americans. More recently, a Michigan News report found that 35% of U.S students have used illicit drugs compared to 18% of European students. Despite the War on Drugs beginning in 1971, drug offenses continue to be one of the most common reasons for incarceration in the United States because we have taken a more fear mongering approach to the War on Drugs rather than one that actually solves the problem. Here are the significant differences between United States policies for drugs compared to the European policies:

United States:              

  • More police funding
  • Stricter on marijuana 
  • More prison funding
  • More drug arrests for dealers and users alike
  • Up to trillions of dollars spent (including incarceration costs) on the war on drugs
  • 40% of annual arrests (80,000) were for marijuana 


  • More money spent on rehab
  • Treatment is prioritized/recommended for users rather than arrests
  • Users usually receive warnings before arrests are made
  • Providing clean syringes for drug users to decrease risk of disease
  • 1 euro spent on treatment = 15 euros saved 
  • Blue light bathrooms so anyone trying to use drugs in public spaces cannot find their veins

One major difference between the U.S and Europe is that European countries recognize that punishing drug usage or possession is not a long term solution. While the U.S spends their money on police and prisons, Europe focuses on arresting more dealers than users, and refers users to treatment centers, where they can be checked for any diseases common with drug usage like HIV and Hepatitis C. Tax dollars in the European Union are spent on doctors, counselors and clinics while tax dollars in the U.S are spent on police, courts and prison. It is estimated by European Union policymakers that for every euro invested in drug education and counseling, 15 euros is saved. While Europe makes progress and saves money, The U.S makes little to no progress in a war that was started over 50 years ago. If the U.S.’ drug policy fails to change, the War on Drugs’ could proceed for much longer.