No Power to Drugs - Discovering the U.S. Anti-Drug Media Advertising

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The "War on Drugs" defines a global campaign initialized by the U.S. federal government with the aim of reducing illegal drug trade & consumption in the United States in the early 1970s. President Richard Nixon, who declared drugs to be public enemy number one, constituted a set of policies intended to discourage psychoactive drugs' production, distribution, and consumption. Shortly after the announcement in 1971, the media labeled the "prevention of new addicts, and the rehabilitation of those who are addicted" as the ”War on Drugs."

By increasing penalties, enforcement, and incarceration for drug offenders, Nixon started his combat on illegal drug use, a national problem dating back to the American Civil War in the 19th century. Many American soldiers were treated with morphine after returning wounded from combat. Furthermore, substances such as heroin were sold over-the-counter to aid tame conditions like insomnia, bronchitis, hysteria, menstrual cramps.These factors led to a national mass addiction, not identified until the end of the century.

Still, even though the problem was actively acknowledged in 1914, the outbreaks of World War I and later the Cold War contributed to the severity of the problem. Since then, the government has already started taking measures to contain the widespread misery until Nixon identified the problem as "public enemy number one."

The "Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act" required the pharmaceutical industry to categorize substances based on their potential for abuse, accepted medical use, and the degree of safety under medical supervision. The scientific classification enabled the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) to selectively combat the production and distribution of drugs assessed to be dangerous. Besides prosecuting the producers, Nixon also repealed the federal 2–10-year mandatory minimum sentences for possession of marijuana. Reagans' following presidency would even expand the nationwide focus on preventing drug abuse, leading to a drastic incline (126%) in incarceration starting in 1980, significantly affecting the African-American community. Historian Elizabeth Hinton wrote the following about Reagans' measures: "[he] led congress in criminalizing drug users, especially African American drug users, by concentrating and stiffening penalties for the possession of the crystalline rock form of cocaine, known as "crack," rather than the crystallized methamphetamine that White House officials recognized was as much of a problem among low-income white Americans." In the early 2000s, the incarceration rates in the U.S. disproportionately consisted of Black Americans, leading the "War on Drugs" to be referred to as "the new Jim Crow:" A reference to laws proclaiming segregation, as the number of black men in prison, had already equaled the number of men enslaved in 1820.

In 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy stated that "The global war on drugs has failed," leading to an update of the government's procedures. Even though it didn't consider legalization to be a solution, it boosted the investment in the studies of substance abuse and stopped measuring the policy's success by the number of arrests made or prisons built. The declaration stated: "Our approach must be a balanced one, combining effective enforcement to restrict the supply of drugs, with efforts to reduce demand and build recovery; supporting people to live a life free of addiction."

By 2020, articles from the ACLU and The New York Times concluded that both Democrats and Republicans agreed to end the War on Drugs. In the same year, President Joe Biden claimed to take the necessary steps to stop the opioid epidemic. Over time, states in the U.S. have approached the matter of drug liberalization at various paces. For example, as of December 2020, Oregon became the first U.S. state to decriminalize all drugs. The state government's response has shifted from a criminal approach to a public health approach.

With One Block Down's latest Visual Essay, we presented a broad overview of the U.S. government's attempts to prevent people from using drugs by producing propaganda movies, as well as print & television advertisement.

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