In the mid-eighties the social and economic costs of drug abuse became a major social welfare issue and precipitated an anti-drug social welfare policy (Mosher and Atkins 2007, p. 202).
Acknowledging that there is a substantial link between drug abuse and deviant/criminal conduct and that drug rehabilitation services were not satisfactorily reducing drug abuse, the US government developed a policy characterized as a “war on drugs” in the 1980s (Ax and Fagan 2007, p. 338). The war of drugs is centered around a prohibitive policy which is reminiscent of previous anti-war policies but with increased emphasis on the interdiction of drugs at or destined for US borders. The US anti-drug policy targets production, consumption and distribution of illicit drugs with the aim of increasing the cost of drug production and use. The costs for both users and producers are economic and abstract in that the criminal justice system in involved (Harris, Tamas and Lind 2008, p. 118).
Since the most implementation of the social welfare policy initiatives encapsulated under the declaration of war on drugs in the mid-eighties, the criminal justice system has played an increasingly significant role. Drug related arrests, sentencing and imprisonment have increased “substantially” (Mosher and Atkins 2007, p. 202). Despite “hundreds of billions of dollars” spent in the criminal justice system pursuant to these policies, there are serious doubts as to whether or not the policies falling under the war on drugs are effective.
Mendoza (2010) reporting for the Associated Press notes that the war on drugs has cost the US “US$1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of live” and yet, “drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread”.