The U.S. has been waging a War on Drugs for the last forty years. But in the mid-2010s, a series of reforms have rejected this militant approach. How did these policies manage to break through a gridlocked Congress? What is the nature of these reforms, and what are their political implications? Using critical discourse analysis, I demonstrate that a new policy framework of “addiction recovery” defines the political crises of the opioid epidemic, the failure of the War on Drugs, and mass incarceration in terms of disease, attributing Drug War injustices to prejudice against “addiction,” rather than a constellation of institutional racism, sexism, nativism, and economic exploitation enacted through drug policy. I conclude that characterizing recent reforms as a decisive break with the War on Drugs obscures the ways in which drug policy continues to perpetuate injustice by offering a personal, rather than political, solution in the “hope” of recovery.
This article was originally published in Social Sciences, doi: 10.3390/socsci7010003.