Can More Accessible Mental Health Care End the War on Drugs?

Can More Accessible Mental Health Care End the War on Drugs?

The “war on drugs” is a commonly used phrase that is used to describe an initiative led by the government that is designed to deny the use of illegal drugs, their distribution and increasing the penalties for those who are offenders.

This war has had mixed reactions all around. There has been a positive sentiment in that it is designed to lessen crime. However, there are also many skeptical that there are underlying political and racist objectives in mind.

President Nixon was the one who officially declared a war on drugs, stating that drug abuse was “public enemy number one”. Nixon targeted this drug abuse in response to a rise in recreational drug use in the 60s.

As a way to combat drug abuse, federal funding increased dramatically for drug-control agencies and called for mandatory sentencing for drug crimes. Since then, this topic has remained very controversial ever since the war was waged.

Is Addiction a Crime or a Medical Issue?

Many have looked at the role that adequate mental health care could play in the role of drug abuse.

Among all of the debates that take place regarding the war on drugs, there is one fundamental concept that many people cannot agree on. This is in regards to whether or not drug abuse is a crime that people should be punished for or a medical addiction that requires medical care.

In most states, controlled substance possession could be punishable with a minimum of $1,000 fined and up to a year behind bars.

For quite a long time, drug abuse was considered a criminal act, but scientists have theorized that it may not be the case under the self-medication theory.

The Self-Medication Theory

The self-medication theory basically states that addiction is based on the theory that drug abuse is done to compensate for an underlying issue that has yet to be treated.

As many began to realize that medications were being prescribed for ailments similar to recreational drugs, this theory began to pick up heavy momentum.

Conditions such as chronic pain could have insufficient treatment in the form of prescription medication. Therefore, victims of these ailments may see no other recourse but to self medicate with marijuana.

With people who have addictions, this theory happens to be a compassionate one. This is because it suggests that drug use is filling in a gap when other medical options appear to fail.

Can Increased Access Fix The Problem?

One such solution to the war on drugs that has been frequently suggested is to increase access to mental health care.

Other countries have actually followed a model that decriminalizes drug abuse.

The United States has been known for a staunch difference in how it goes about implementing policies.

For example, in comparison with Portugal, the United States has been known for handling imprisonment, arrests, and policies in a much more extreme manner.

Despite whatever system a country implements to combat the war on drugs, there is an undeniable link between addictive substances and mental illnesses.

Over time, mental conditions can manifest themselves in any individual, and each unique condition requires a special set of interventions to adequately treat.

This has been a topic that researchers have studied for some time, dating back to the 1970s. There was an experiment that was conducted approximately 40 years ago known as “Rat Park”.

In this well-known experiment, a rat was placed in a cage with two water bottles. There was a regular water bottle, and the other water bottle had opiates laced in its makeup. In almost every trial, the rat that drank the opiate-laced water bottle would continue to drink it. In other words, it got addicted until it eventually died.

The scientific thought on addiction was heavily influenced by this experiment for many years until colleagues from Simon Fraser University conducted a similar experiment with some modifications.

In their version of the experiment, the rat was placed in similar circumstances as before. However, there was a little caveat placed in this form.

They created for the rat what they called a “Rat Utopia”. Basically, they set up an area that was abundant in toys, food, care, other rats to socialize with and the same two water bottles.

With the artificially created safe haven at their disposal, barely any of the rats were addicted to the opiates. The opportunity was present for them to get addicted to the water bottle with opiates, but there was no need to become addicted.

From this experiment, it was concluded that community and socialization can play a bigger role in addiction than was previously conceived. This can also be related to the importance of mental health as well.

For those who suffer from conditions such as depression and other conditions that can cause one to not be socially active, drugs may be seen as a way out.

However, if there are a strong community presence and an ideal environment placed around them, mental health can improve. In turn, there will be no need to get addicted to drugs.

While the dynamics of testing rats are clearly different from testing actual human beings, there are some core principles that have been taken from these experiments.

For example, it is clear that focus needs to come off of isolating individuals who have a drug addiction issue, and instead towards treatment and integration into one’s society.

It is also important to not oversimplifying the issue, because these were just two scenarios given and there are other confounding factors that have to be considered.

However, through this experiment combined with data of the legal system of the United States compared with others, decreasing criminalization of drug abuse can have its advantages.

The time has come to start having productive discussions on how the war of drugs can be effectively ended because it is quite clear that simply using brute force and the letter of the law is inefficient in trying to eradicate the issue.

World Wide Impact

While the war on drugs in the United States has reached a boiling point, other countries have effectively ended theirs and have seen results. Some of these countries include:

  • Ecuador
  • Portugal
  • Uruguay
  • Czech Republic
  • Croatia
  • Switzerland
  • The Netherlands
  • Mexico
  • Australia

A national poll that was conducted by the Pew Research Center five years ago has found that United States citizens are ready for a change in how drug abuse is handled.

The world has already progressed in this ongoing war that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight while the United States remains behind. There must be change, and increasing access to mental health care and resources that can help citizens feel less isolated is one big step to accomplish this feat.


It is important for people, especially the younger generation, to lead a healthy lifestyle.

High school and college students are groups of people that can be exposed to drugs.

In order to foster a healthy life and a valuable education, the Rusty Tweed Drug Free Scholarship can help students on that journey.

This scholarship is run by Rusty Tweed, who is a proud supporter of Drug Free World and believes making the world drug free starts with education.


I am a pop culture and social media expert. Aside from writing about the latest news health, I also enjoy pop culture and Yoga. I have BA in American Cultural Studies and currently enrolled in a Mass-Media MA program. I like to spend my spring breaks volunteering overseas.

Post Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.