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Half a Century of Nixon’s Racist War on Drugs: Time for Transformation and Action 

Half a Century of Nixon’s Racist War on Drugs: Time for Transformation and Action 

Fifty years ago tomorrow, citing drug abuse as “public enemy number one”, President Nixon called for a war on drugs, a move that was later revealed to be a cynical bid to marginalize Black people and the anti-war movement for political gain. 

Statement from Daliah Heller, Director of Drug Use Initiatives, Vital Strategies:  

“Over the past fifty years, an escalating war on drugs has fueled a tragic cycle of drug use and criminalization, claiming more than 90,000 lives to overdose last year and inflicting enormous and untold harms on people and communities, and especially on communities of color. 

“We are amidst the worst overdose crisis in history. Rather than addressing drug use as a health issue, we have treated it as a crime. To end the devastation of the war on drugs, we must embrace a public health approach that supports people who use drugs instead of punishing them. We know the strategies proven to reduce drug use and repair communities. Harm reduction strategies prioritize health and safety with tools like naloxone for overdose reversal, buprenorphine and methadone for opioid dependence treatment, and syringe service programs for safer injecting drug use. Harm reduction is the public health approach we need to overturn the war on drugs.  

“Recent progress at the federal level has harm reduction advocates daring to hope that a transition is possible. Just a few months ago harm reduction services received a landmark $30 million in federal funding and soon after, the Office of National Drug Control Policy announced its first year priorities, among which harm reduction was featured. We join with those calling for a massive surge investment and support for harm reduction services, to match the scale and scope of the spiraling overdose epidemic.

“On its fiftieth anniversary, it is time for failed war on drugs to be confined to dustbin of history, and invest in a public health approach.”

About Vital Strategies   

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible.  

To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.  

About Vital Strategies’ Overdose Prevention Program  

In November 2018, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a $50 million investment to address the country’s overdose crisis. The initiative—a first-of-its-kind partnership between Vital Strategies, Pew Charitable Trusts, CDC Foundation, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health—is helping up to 10 states implement solutions over three years to strengthen and scale up evidence-based, data-driven interventions to reduce risks of overdose and save lives.   

Media Contacts:

Tony Newman:; 646-335-5384 
Christina Honeysett:; 914-424-3356