Pubdate: Thu, 20 Apr 2000
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2000 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Page: A27
Contact:  200 Liberty Street, New York, NY 10281
Fax: (212) 416-2658
Author: Jerry Epstein, President, Drug Policy Forum of Texas
Referenced: Prof. Wilson's OPED is at:


James Q. Wilson and others are wrong about the speculative increase in 
addiction that might accompany the regulated supply of drugs ("A New 
Strategy for the War on Drugs," editorial page, April 13). In fact, the 
evidence is that addiction, which has gradually increased during the past 
30 years of prohibition, would gradually decrease, just as it was beginning 
to do a century ago prior to Prohibiton, a period when there was 
substantially more use but less than than half the addiction rate of today.

The root of Prof. Wilson's error is in failing to understand that the quest 
for altered consciousness is a function of human will and not of the myriad 
drugs available. Because he deals with numbers as opposed to real human 
beings, he lapses into the popular but grossly inaccurate litany that more 
use means more addiction, etc. In fact, most users never harm anyone 
through their drug use and addiction is an unusual outcome. For example, 
according to the 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, of all those 
who had ever tried cocaine (including crack), only 3% were still using it 
as often as once a week.

Casual users and addicts are two entirely different sets of people. Prof. 
Wilson has never explained why the rate of addiction rose during the 1980s 
while the rate of drug use plunged or why addiction continued to rise 
during the 1990s while drug use was stagnant. To those who have observed 
the rampant availability of illegal drugs to the young and who understand 
that addiction is closely linked to such mental states as stress and 
isolation, it is not surprising that today's harsh repression and 
vilification has culminated in less use and more addiction.

Prof. Wilson's theories of gloom and doom collapse when one tries to 
describe the group from which these new addicts to highly intoxicating 
drugs must come. Surely not from the one-third of us who have already used 
illegal drugs and produced the 2% of our population currently addicted to 
illegal drugs (while 8% are addicted to legal drugs, primarily alcohol). 
Would Prof. Wilson argue that only price or risk has stood between these 
users and addiction, thus turning the very meaning of addiction on its 
head? And surely not from the one-third who are teetotalers or near 
teetotalers even in regard to alcohol.

The final one-third has two basic characteristics: its members have never 
used an illegal drug and they now use alcohol in a temperate and 
responsible manner. There is no evidence to suggest that these people would 
change in character and a great deal to suggest they would not. To say that 
this group would produce anyone who would become addicted to other drugs, 
but not to alcohol, is very questionable and to suggest, as political 
rhetoric often does, that they would produce 3 to 12 times as many addicts 
is not only absurd, but indicates a mentality that believes that only a 
paternalistic government employing its police power stands between the 
average American and drug addiction.

Can Prof. Wilson explain why we should not apply all of his coercive 
suggestions to alcohol users, who use a drug that dose-for-dose is more 
closely linked to crime, violence, death, organ damage and fetal damage 
than cocaine or heroin? The continued monumental waste and inhumanity of 
the drug war is testimony to the power of the politics of fear.

Jerry Epstein
Drug Policy Forum of Texas
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake