June 17 marked the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s 1971 speech beginning the war on drugs. By any objective accounting, the drawn-out conflict has been a colossal failure. It was begun under false pretenses, has cost billions, has destroyed livelihoods and lives – and perhaps most glaringly, has not made a dent in drug abuse, which is unhealthy to individuals and society.

The nation’s awakenings on two substances, marijuana and prescription opioids, point the way to what can and should be a better approach: increasingly treating addiction and its consequences as public health problems rather than criminal ones.

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