War on Drugs


The US anti-drug policy that began in 1909 and escalated into a full blown war in the 1980s and 1990s transformed substances previously marketed as healing products by the world’s oldest pharmaceutical companies into the greatest threat to national security since communism.  US drug policy was officially labeled a war during the Nixon administration, however, it was the $7.8 billion federal anti-drug plan and the National Drug Control Strategy Implementation Act passed during George Bush’s administration that made the war the center of major domestic and foreign policy decisions.  The war outlined by the Bush administration called for a 3-tierd attack on drugs that consisted of crop eradication programs to eliminate drugs at their source, interdiction efforts to prevent drugs from entering into the country, and harsh penalties domestically for users and small scale pushers.  The war on drugs has intensified with both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations with increased federal spending on interdiction, law enforcement, and crop eradication efforts and legislation that increases penalties for users and small scale pushers.  This research topic is devoted to understanding the multidimensional aspects of the drug war.  Current subtopics are crop eradication programs and Plan Columbia, CIA involvement in narco-trafficking, domestic legislation and their impact, and drug policy reform.


Timeline of War on Drugs

  • 1971: President Nixon declares drug abuse to be “public enemy number one” and launches the War on Drugs. He establishes the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention (SAODAP) to coordinate federal drug control efforts.
  • 1973: The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is established as a federal law enforcement agency to enforce drug laws and combat drug trafficking.
  • 1980s: The crack cocaine epidemic hits inner cities, leading to increased arrests and incarceration rates, particularly for Black and Latino communities. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 increases federal penalties for drug offenses, including mandatory minimum sentences, leading to the growth of the federal prison population.
  • 1988: The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is established to coordinate drug control efforts across federal agencies. The ONDCP is responsible for developing and implementing the National Drug Control Strategy, which sets priorities and goals for federal drug control efforts.
  • 1989: The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) launches the Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG) to monitor trends in drug use and abuse in cities across the United States.
  • 1990s: The Clinton Administration continues to focus on the War on Drugs, leading to a further increase in arrests and incarceration rates. The 1994 crime bill provides billions of dollars in funding for law enforcement and prison construction, leading to a significant increase in the federal prison population.
  • 2000s: Critics begin to question the effectiveness of the War on Drugs and its disproportionate impact on communities of color. Some states begin to implement alternatives to incarceration, such as drug courts and treatment programs. In 2000, the ONDCP launches the Drug-Free Communities Support Program, which provides funding for community-based drug prevention programs.
  • 2010s: The opioid epidemic becomes a major public health crisis, leading to increased attention on the need for a public health-oriented approach to drug policy. In 2016, the Obama Administration announces a shift towards a more public health-oriented approach to drug policy, but federal drug control efforts continue to prioritize enforcement and interdiction. In 2017, the ONDCP launches the National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS), which provides real-time surveillance of emerging drug use trends and drug-related harm.
  • 2018: The Trump Administration takes a hardline approach to drug policy, reinvigorating the War on Drugs and increasing federal drug enforcement efforts. In 2018, the ONDCP launches the STRIDE (Strategic Transnational Initiative for Drug Enforcement) program, which provides funding for international drug enforcement efforts.
  • 2021: With a new administration in the White House, there is renewed hope for a shift towards a more evidence-based, public health-oriented approach to drug policy in the United States. In 2021, the Biden Administration announces a comprehensive approach to drug policy that prioritizes public health and harm reduction, and invests in evidence-based treatment and prevention programs.



CIA Involvement in Narco-Trafficking

  • Carl A. Trocke. Opium, Empire, and the Global Political Economy. Rutledge Publishers: UK. 1999.
  • Michael Levine. The Big White Lie: CIA and crack/cocaine epidemic: an undercover odyssey. Thunder’s Mouth Press: NY. 1993.
  • William Leary. Perilous Missions: Civil Air Transport and CIA covert operations in Asia. University of Alabama Press: Alabama. 1984.
  • Alexander Cockburn and Jefferey St. Claire. Whiteout: CIA, drugs, and the press. Verso: London, NY. 1998.
  • Chirstopher Robbins. Air America. New York: G.P. Putnam. 1979.
  • Thomas McCan. An American Company: The Tragedy of United Fruit. New York: Crown Publishers. 1976.
  • Douglas Valentine. The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs. Verso: London, NY. 2004.