The final component of a war on addiction should be prevention, the current buzzword for dealing with obesity, heart disease, and many other illnesses. We could save billions of dollars and untold lives if we intervened early and prevented the progress of addiction and its effects: serious illness, inability to work, destruction of families, crime, and ultimately death. Addiction prevention would identify and face head-on the social and psychological conditions, including mental illness, that often lead to addiction.
In addition to lowering morbidity and mortality, the war on cancer changed the way we look at the disease and treat its sufferers. Cancer is no longer the “Big C,” a secret shame. Addiction, destigmatized, would come to be thought of as a terrible disease, best recognized and treated early. This might be the biggest breakthrough of all.
Can we cure addiction? Again, despite thirty-five years of aggressive research, many cases of cancer resist treatment. But we have made dramatic progress. And in the process we've relieved incalculable suffering, saved hundreds of millions of dollars, and saved millions of lives. A war on addiction would do the same—and more. By dramatically decreasing emergency room visits and prison populations, we'd eventually free up funds to treat other illnesses, improving health care across the board. We'd eliminate much homelessness and dramatically reduce violence, including child abuse, spousal abuse, and violent crime. We'd help families stay together and repair broken neighborhoods. We'd alleviate immeasurable suffering.