US Spending Isn't Winning the War on Drugs

By Bryan Le 10/25/12

A stark chart shows how $545 billion spent on the War on Drugs over 40 years has failed to drive down drug use.

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Green line: money. Blue line: US drug use.
Photo via

Despite total federal spending of approximately $545 billion to stop drugs in their tracks, the rate of US drug use has changed relatively little over the past 40 years, according to a chart crafted by documentarian Matt Groff. Using data pulled from the Census and the government's National Drug Control Surveys, Groff finds that while anti-drug spending has increased massively since Richard Nixon declared a "War on Drugs" in the early '70s, it's made relatively little impact on the proportion of Americans using illicit drugs. In the '70s, the government was spending less than $1,000 per 100 citizens on preventing drug abuse (all values are measured in 2012 dollars). By 2000, spending hit $9,000 per 100 people—and it's remained near that level over the past decade. Meanwhile the number of drug users per 100 people in any given month hit a peak at just under 20 in 1979, before declining to just over five for most of the '90s. The last decade, however, despite the sustained high level of anti-drug spending, has seen a gradual increase in the proportion of drug users to around 10 out of every 100 people. As the US government loses money, an estimated 60,000 people have lost their lives to violence fueled by drug trafficking in Mexico, in addition to countless others around the world who have died from overdose and addiction.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter