The war on drugs wasn't the only one Nixon declared in 1971. In his State of the Union address that year, he also declared war on cancer. “I will ask for an appropriation … to launch an intensive campaign to find a cure for cancer,” he announced. “The time has come in America when the same kind of concentrated effort that split the atom and took man to the moon should be turned toward conquering this dread disease. Let us make a total national commitment to achieve this goal.” By the end of that year, he had signed into law the National Cancer Act, declaring, “I hope in the years ahead we will look back on this action today as the most significant action taken during my Administration.”
Cancer hasn't been eradicated, of course, but the illness, once a death sentence, is now often treatable. According to Vincent DeVita, M.D., former director of the National Cancer Institute, the war on cancer “did everything it was supposed to do.” The incidence of cancer began dropping in 1990 and has continued to fall every year since then. Since 2004, the death rate from cancer has decreased at double the rate of the previous two decades.
I believe we need an all-out war on addiction modeled on the war on cancer. We could save millions of lives and billions of dollars now squandered on, and by, addiction. But we won't make a dent in this problem unless we decide to fight the right war.