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HLT 214 - Substance Use and Abuse - Textbook

Chapter 1: Historical Perspectives

Chapter 1. Historical Perspectives

Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of the chapter, students will be able to:

  1.  Understand the history of drug use and abuse in the USA
  2.  Outline the historical time line of the War on Drugs and associated  legislative provisions.
  3.  Explain the prohibition Movement and the two respective legislative provisions that started and ended it.
  4.  State the year when Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was established.
  5.  State the administration which started the War on Drugs.
  6. Describe the significance of the War on Drugs across different demographic populations.


Historically, morphine was introduced to soldiers as an analgesic during the Civil War. Hundreds of thousands of Americans suffered from addiction to morphine during the war and the period after the war. At the same time, the prohibition movement regained much of the steam and public support for the restriction of alcohol consumption. 

By the 1880s, cocaine was introduced in the United States for medicinal  purposes. The drug was dispensed in a variety of ways—in the form of cigarettes, tablets, powder, and even soda.  With addiction to cocaine spreading quickly, first major prohibition on cocaine consumption  was introduced in Oregon in 1887. However, cocaine consumption still continued across the United States.  With increased consumption of cocaine, the use and abuse of morphine declined in the early 1900s.  At the same time, Bayer, a major pharmaceutical and chemicals company that was founded in 1863 by Friedrich Bayer and Johann Wescott in Barmen, Germany,  began selling heroin as an over-the-counter alternative to morphine. It is remarkable that Bayer marketed heroin as non-addictive drug although it is known that heroin is a highly addictive substance.

By the 1910s, it  had become increasingly evident that the use and abuse of cocaine was  associated with criminality in large urban centers. In the South, white employers forced black workers to use cocaine regularly in order to increase productivity, inevitably prompting addiction. 1

By 1919,  the 18th Amendment prohibiting the production, transport, and sale of alcohol in the United States was ratified. One year later, the federal government criminalized cocaine use and possession with the passage of the Dangerous Drug Act of 1920. Four years later, heroin met the same legislative fate, and any use of  the drug heroin, medical or recreational, was made illegal. Despite attempts to regulate drug use from the federal level, addictive drugs like heroin and cocaine were firmly established  in American culture and illegal trade and abuse continued throughout the 1920s.  

By 1933, the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th and ended the prohibition of alcohol consumption and distribution. Partially influenced by the reckless culture of alcohol consumption in the 1920s, anti-substance activists focused their efforts on drug prohibition. The federal government met these demands with various drug tax acts, placing high taxes on marijuana and other recreational drugs in an effort to dissuade consumption, particularly among young adults. Drug policy became a non-priority during the second World War, and federal drug policies remained unreformed until the 1960s.

With the rise of counterculture came the rise of drug abuse. Cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and other criminalized drugs regained popularity, prompting the federal government to launch multiple anti-drug campaigns. In 1969, the Nixon Administration launched Operation Intercept in an attempt to control drug trafficking between Mexico and the southern United States. Congress quickly followed suit with the 1970 Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act.  In 1971, the Nixon Administration announced the United States’ War on Drugs,  and in July 1, 1973,  established the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The War on Drugs continued into the Carter Administration (1977-1980), which launched a presidential commission on drugs in 1980. Later, the concurrent exponential spread in crack and cocaine epidemics prompted the Reagan Administration(1981-1989) to launch its “Just Say No” campaign, aimed at kids, teenagers, and young adults to abstain from engaging in drug use, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. The late 80s and the escalation of the federal government’s War on Drugs also prompted a rise in racially biased drug laws and arrests.1  According to research, nearly 80% of people in federal prison and almost 60% of people in state prison for drug offenses are black or Latino.2

Chapter Review and Discussion Questions

Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) is an education program that seeks to prevent drug abuse in adolescents and young adults.  Now read by clicking the link here and answer the following questions:

1. Which US president declared the war on drugs? Which year?

2. Was the War on drugs successful? Why? Briefly Explain.

3. Was DARE successful? Why? Explain.