The failed “War on Drugs” should be replaced by universal health care

By Jim Johnson

The other day I watched a Joe Biden town hall meeting that was televised by NBC.  People chosen from the audience asked Joe questions and he answered their questions.  I wasn’t invited so I was not able to ask Joe a question. However, the following is a question I would like to ask.  It would go like this:

Mr. Vice President I’m from Louisville Kentucky, but you don’t have to be from Louisville to know about the demonstrations that are occurring in Louisville as well as cities all over the country.  These demonstrations are, in part, about the invasion of Breonna Taylor’s apartment. As everyone knows, that invasion was implemented by the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) on March 13th , and it cost Breonna Taylor her life. The invasion occurred as a result of a no-knock warrant executed by LMPD.  The police claim no-knock warrants are necessary when they suspect that illegal drugs exist in a residence. But I argue that we need a different approach to the drug dependence problem in America. I advocate for an approach that would eliminate the need for no-knocks warrants and home invasions.

The “War on Drugs” began in 1982 during the Reagan administration. That strategy had to do with tracking down drug dealers and breaking up drug cartels.   But since the 1980s, drug abuse and chemical dependency has grown exponentially.  By 2002, a million people were dying from opioid over- dose. By 2014, that number had increase to 1,500,000. 1  

By 2013, over 207 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers were being written each year, a dramatic increase from 76 million prescriptions written in 1991, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. By 2016, some 17.6 million people were suffering from an alcohol use disorder. Approximately 7.4 million people over the age of 12 struggle with drug addiction. 2

The “War on Drugs” is not only a dismal failure it has added to the violence we now see in American cities. Canada, European Countries and Scandinavian countries have solved this problem.  They did so by providing Universal Health Care insurance, that includes health care that addresses mental and emotional problems as well.  So, in countries that have implemented a universal health insurance system those who struggle with drug addiction can get the care they need through a mental health care provider. There are organizations that specialize in drug addiction issues here in the U.S., but those institutions are too expensive for most suffering from chemical dependency.  Our drug problem here has to do with supply and demand. If we diminish the demand, we also diminish the supply. Access to mental health care providers will decrease the demand.

The United States spends more on health care than any other country in the world. We now spend 17 % of our GDP on health care. Says the economist Dr. Gerald Friedman, in the next three years healthcare costs will jump from $3.7 trillion up to $6 trillion annually.  That figure does not include the cost of the war on drugs or the cost of housing people addicted to drugs in our nation’s prisons. We treat people addicted to drugs as criminals instead of addressing the drug abuse problem as a health care issue. We ask police, who are not trained drug abuse counselors, to solve this health care problem by arresting people who are chemically dependent.

So, Mr. Biden I ask, will your health care plan include provisions for mental health providers and will all Americans have access to the health care they need? Second, do you plan to continue addressing the drug dependency problem via a “war on drugs” strategy and if so why?

I ask our readers to support a universal health care system that includes mental health providers.


[1] Destination Hope Blog: The Evolution of Addiction and Treatment Through the Ages, September 15, 2016.

[2] Foundation Recovery Network: Alcohol Addiction Historical Figures and Addiction


Jim Johnson is a retired Jefferson County Public School teacher.  He has been involved in the Louisville Peace and Justice community since 1985. He is currently the facilitator for the Fellowship of Reconciliation affiliate “Aim Higher” and is a member of the board of directors of the Louisville Chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). He can be reached at