This is a blog by Mary Ryder, coordinator of Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drugs Control

After half a century of fighting and a trillion dollars wasted on an ineffective and counterproductive policy, the drug war is a colossal failure. Yet while drug violence is a common topic in contemporary literature and film, from Breaking Bad to Narcos, we are seldom offered a solution or way out of this chaos. Below are three must-read books that do just this. You can take this list to your local book club to help shed a light on the urgent need for drug policy reform.

Chasing the Scream – the first and last days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari

Chasing the Scream follows the origins and effects of the global drug war, through powerful first-hand accounts of people from across the world, including families on the front-line of the drug war in Mexico to users in countries with more compassionate drug laws, documenting how people’s lives have been transformed by this bloody war. In this gripping book, Hari lays bare a startling gap between what we have been told and what is really going on; drugs are not what we have been told they are; addiction is not what we think it is; and exposing the real motives behind the drug war. This book is a powerful challenge to prohibition and the benefits of legal regulation are made clear.


Good Cop, Bad War by Neil Woods

Former undercover cop, Neil Woods, spent years infiltrating Britain’s most dangerous drug gangs and befriending the country’s most vulnerable populations who are dependent on drugs before taking on their gangster bosses. This incredible book illustrates the insanely violent reality of the drug war in the UK and the devastating impact it has not only on communities but on the very institutions which are supposed to protect us. Woods explains how, as gangs responded with escalating violence and intimidation – some even poisoning and murdering users as a means of enforcing control – he has come to see legalisation as the only solution. This is a thought-provoking book that everyone should read.


The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

The Sound of Things Falling is a beautiful and delicate account of the horror that beset Colombia in the 1990s and 2000s as we follow the protagonist, a law professor from Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá, and his struggle with post-traumatic stress. This is a powerful book about the devastating impact of the drug war on Colombia –  but there is little mention of drugs themselves or glorified cartel violence. Rather, Vásquez describes the trauma experienced by an entire generation through the poignant sound of planes falling, of bodies falling, of lives falling inexorably apart. This novel affords a rare understanding of the inhuman costs of the drug war on producer countries. Legal regulation of the market would prevent situations like this from happening again all over the world.

Discussion questions

Here are some discussion questions to prompt meaningful and necessary debate about current drug policy and the need for reform. Take these to your local book club and join our growing campaign for change!

  • What was shocking or surprising in this book? Did you learn anything?
  • How has the “war on drugs” failed?
  • What are some of the unintended consequences of prohibition? Who are the real victims in this war?
  • What benefits would legal regulation of the drug market afford society?
  • Has this book convinced you of the need to legally regulate drugs?

Please do let us know how you get on by emailing We would love to hear about any interesting discussions which take place!