The Failed War On Drugs: Opioid Addiction

Last Updated on May 3, 2019

opioid addiction

The United Nations General Assembly gathered in New York for the first time since 1998 for a special hearing on the Failed War on Drugs earlier this year. President Nixon began the war on drugs in 1971 proclaiming “America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse”. In order to win the war President Nixon, lead an all-out offense attack on the prohibition of drugs, military intervention, and a foreign aid to reduce the trade of illicit drugs. America punished manufacturers, locked up traffickers and suppliers, and treated the drug addicts as criminals.
During this process our police departments militarized and expanded and the prison systems ballooned. With all our efforts, the problem is still here today. The War on Drugs has gained much criticism in the past decade, arguing that it has burdened taxpayers without resulting in a significant reduction in addicts abusing drugs.

“Several Decades of scientific research have made it clear that our current approach to this drug epidemic simply isn’t working, “said Medical Director Dr. Michael Lowenstein. He has observed firsthand how the War on Drugs has failed the very people it was intended to save.

“Under our current drug policy, rates of heroin overdose have quadrupled since 1999. Clearly, we can be doing more to help those who are vulnerable to opiate dependence. Addicted patients and their families deserve an updated, scientifically grounded, compassionate approach to global drug policy. This must include access to the best heroin addiction treatment available.”

Overdose deaths from opioids drugs like heroin, oxycodone and hydrocodone continue to be the leading cause of unintentional deaths for Americans.1

Although drug overdose deaths involving natural and semisynthetic opioid analgesics like oxycodone and hydrocodone decreased from 29 percent in 2010 to 24 percent in 2015, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl (other than methadone/dolophine/methadose) increased from 8 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2015. In addition, heroin overdose deaths tripled from 8 percent in 2010 to 25 percent in 2015.2

According to the National Safety Council, opioid overdoses involving prescription painkillers and heroin killed 37,814 people in 2016.3 Such painkillers include: 

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The United Nations commissioned a 54-page drug report to evaluate the global progress towards the goal of eradicating drug abuse created by the John Hopkins-Lancet Commission on Drug Policy and Health. The report stated that the existing drug policies are not scientifically grounded and have contributed to excessive use of incarceration. The report also points out the barriers to humane and affordable treatment. The UN report proposed changes to such as access to harm reduction services such as naloxone, or supervised injection sites, and decriminalization of minor drug offenses. Much like President Obama’s plan, the UN report calls for expanded access to effective treatments for drug dependence to help drug addicts.

President Obama’s Plan:

  • On top of expanding access to MAT, the White House announced other initiatives:
  • providing an additional $11 million to increase access to naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug.
  • establishing a Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force.
  • Ensuring that mental health and substance use benefits are offered as medical and surgical benefits are for those enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
  • A $7 million initiative by the Department of Justice toward policing and investigating heroin distribution.
  • Guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services for federally funded needle exchange programs.

Over the past month, federal agencies have been aggressive in implementing new strategies to help fight the epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new opioid prescribing guidelines. The guidelines, aimed at primary care prescribers, state that opioids should not be considered as first-line therapy for chronic pain and that clinicians should first consider non-opioid pain relievers or non-drug alternatives, such as exercise, meditation, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Additionally, researchers are looking at alternative drugs like meloxicam (sold under the brand name Mobic) that are touted as being safer than opioids to help patients manage chronic pain related to medical conditions.

If you know someone who is struggling with opioid addiction, contact Nova Recovery Center today to learn more about our individualized drug rehab program.


  1. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/accidental-injury-cause-of-death-in-the-us-national-safety-council/
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db273.htm
  3. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/accidental-injury-cause-of-death-in-the-us-national-safety-council/
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