March 27, 2007
Anna Christopher, NPR



March 27, 2007; Washington, D.C. – More than three decades and billions of dollars have passed since the United States government first declared war on drugs. There have been victories, including the decline of drug use among American youth over the last decade, but the toll of illegal narcotics remains tremendous. Between 2001 and 2004 alone, when the nation’s focus shifted to different wars, illegal drug use continued, claiming more than 100,000* lives to drug-induced causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

NPR News investigates what progress has been made in the 35-year drug war in a powerful five-part series, “The Forgotten War,” airing the week of Monday, April 2 on the afternoon newsmagazine All Things Considered. Award-winning national correspondent John Burnett leads the series with an analysis of the cost of the current war on drugs, both in dollars spent and lives lost. No stranger to reporting on the drug war, Burnett’s “Cocaine Republics” series in 2004 detailed the emergence of Central America as a major drug smuggling region.

Burnett examines the fundamental underpinnings of the drug trade: supply and demand. The foundation of the U.S.’s war on drugs has long operated on the premise that cutting off the foreign drug supply will curb use at home. Instead, many anti-drug experts say overseas counterdrug operations have little if any effect on the U.S. drug market, and that reducing demand is a more sensible and effective solution, as successfully demonstrated by a San Antonio drug prevention program profiled by Burnett in the series.

“The Forgotten War” also looks at how widespread incarceration of drug lords in the late 1980s and early ‘90s is affecting American cities today. In Oakland, Calif., for example, national crime and punishment correspondent Laura Sullivan finds a city overwhelmed by too many recently released ex-convicts lacking access to rehabilitative programs, drug counseling and job training. In addition, NPR’s Juan Forero reports on the progress of “Plan Columbia,” a program launched in 2000 to slash Columbia’s drug crop, but considered a multi-billion dollar failure by critics.

Burnett closes the series with a hard look at the office of the Drug Czar, whose occupant, John Walters, has been criticized as ineffective and out of touch.

“The Forgotten War” series editor is Alisa Barba. Series producer is Marisa Penaloza. Producers are Steve Drummond, Anne Hawke, Didi Schanche and Amy Walters.

Information about “The Forgotten War,” including broadcast times, will be available at The site will also feature Web-exclusive components such as a timeline of the drug war, an interactive map of the roles other countries are playing in the war on drugs, and Web-only interviews with a recovering drug addict, former drug dealer and officials from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

In companion to “The Forgotten War,” NPR News will air a special three-part report on America’s methamphetamine epidemic on Tuesday, April 3 on NPR newsmagazines Morning Edition and Day to Day, and Wednesday, April 4 on Morning Edition. Carrie Kahn reports from the West Coast on how 80% of the American methamphetamine supply is being produced in Mexico, a result of a recent U.S. crackdown on the sale of chemicals used to produce the drug.

Correspondent Howard Berkes, who has covered the ongoing meth crisis in rural America, reports from southwest Missouri, where the presence of “mom and pop” meth labs has declined sharply, echoing a trend throughout midwestern, southern and western America. But Berkes finds there’s still plenty of meth around – most of it in the form of the more addictive Mexican “ice” or “crystal” meth – presenting significant challenges for law enforcement agencies working to thwart meth users and suppliers.

NPR’s signature newsmagazines, All Things Considered and Morning Edition, reach a combined total of 24 million listeners weekly. To find local stations and broadcast times, visit

*Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Note: “Drug-induced causes” includes deaths from dependent and nondependent drugs and poisoning from medically prescribed and other drugs; and excludes unintentional injuries, homicides and other causes directly related to drug use, and newborn deaths due to mother’s drug use.