Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs, but Ronald Reagan really got things started by greatly increasing the number of arrests for drug-related crimes. The 1980s also saw large increases in prison terms for drug offenses. The war on drugs changed many lives, but it did not stem the rising tide of drugs in America.

Now Donald Trump wants to double down on drug enforcement by making the sale of drugs a capital offense and by increasing the enforcement of anti-drug laws. The checkered history of anti-drug enforcement since the Reagan years has not worked, and Trump’s booster shot will probably fail as well. It is way past time to start addressing the problem instead of the politics.

A sound alternative to incarcerating drug users are more drug rehabilitation centers, but do they work when no more than 2 in 5 patients remain sober? While drug rehab programs don’t have great statistics, they match up well with other rehab programs and generally improve the lives of those seeking treatment. Drug rehab programs may be frustratingly ineffective, but the alternate way to get out of the drug cycle is an overdose.

Drug overdoses have always been a problem, but the frequency of overdoses started to skyrocket around 2010, and the rising number of deaths may have been caused by a change to the new gateway drug OxyContin. In 2010, OxyContin was reformulated, making it harder to crush and snort the drug. The new formula and subsequent restrictions to the manufacture and sale of OxyContin led users to other, cheaper drug sources, such as heroin.

Fixing the drug epidemic will need a balanced approach between vigorous, legal enforcement and drug rehabilitation programs. It will take time, but it will take longer unless we close the Pandora’s box of codeine-based painkillers made for the mass market.

Peter Konieczko