USA's Drug Policy

USA's Drug Policy

According to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health report, an estimated 53.2 million people in the United States were drug users in 2018. Most of this wass marijuana use,  which has 43.5 million users.

To  combat this, the US focuses on prevention, treatment, domestic law enforcement, and international cooperation. Prevention efforts range from school-based programs to advertising campaigns as well as community-based initiatives. On the other hand, drug treatment has focused on abstinence as well as maintenance therapy.

Despite an increasing focus on demand reduction, a larger proportion of federal drug budget remains allocated to supply-side strategies. This includes funding of the Departments of Homeland Security and Defence to interrupt trafficking across international borders. Furthermore, the United States has provided funding to neighbouring countries including Mexico and Colombia to curb drug productions.


In dealing with the domestic drug problem, the US government has focused on reducing foreign and domestic supply by limiting the number of prescriptions in the United States and providing counternarcotics assistance to countries such as Mexico. The effectiveness of current US drug policy is in question, however, with the US currently facing an opioid epidemic as a result of over-prescription of pain killers for medical purposes. Even though the number of opioid users has decreased since 2017, the number of opioid deaths has doubled 6 times since 1999.

The ineffectiveness of the supply reduction effort is apparent in the fact that drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available. Furthermore, despite increases in funding for demand reduction, much of the federal funding for treatment has funnelled into the criminal justice system. Furthermore, harm reduction policies have received strong opposition by some political parties due to concerns about promoting drug use. The Needle Exchange program, which was reintroduced in 2009, was short-lived as Congress attached a funding ban to it in 2012. Whilst organisations around America have continually called for a shift to demand reduction policies, with the US Sentencing Commission recommended reducing the penalties for drug offenders in 2014, substantial action by government has yet to be taken.


Photo by Samuel Branch on Unsplash

[1] Beau, K., Gregory, M. & Clinton, S. (2016). Back in the National Spotlight: An Assessment of Recent Changes in Drug Use and Drug Policies in the United States. Brookings. Retrieved from

[1] Scot, T. (2019). Alcohol and Drug Abuse Statistics. American Addiction Centers. Retrieved from

[1] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved from

[1] Drug Policy Alliance. (2015). The Federal Drug Control Budget. Retrieved from