Pubdate: Fri, 18 May 2001
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Copyright: 2001 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Author: Jim Tarrant


In his May 16 commentary, Joseph A. Califano Jr. makes a number of
valid points concerning the importance of prevention and treatment for
illegal drug use and abuse, using the examples of Robert Downey Jr.
and Darryl Strawberry. However, in the process of supporting his
correct conclusion that treatment makes more sense than imprisonment,
the author perpetuates several drug myths that should be corrected.

He first suggests that Downey and Strawberry are addicts because they
drank beer and smoked pot when they were younger. How can the
president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at
Columbia University seriously trot out the "gateway" theory? Yes,
"virtually all individuals who get hooked on cocaine and heroin" used
alcohol and pot (and tobacco) first. And they all drank milk before
that. Research has proven that the use of "soft" drugs does not cause
one to advance to "hard" drugs. Did you ever drink or smoke? Did it
make you want to shoot heroin?

He then goes on to suggest that the number of drug users would soar if
"marijuana, cocaine and heroin were as available as Budweiser,
Marlboros and Jack Daniels," and that we wouldn't be able to keep
drugs out of the hands of children. If the illicit drugs were
legalized, surely there would be provisions concerning who could use
them and who could sell them, huge improvements over the present
black-market system that allows anybody to sell anything to anybody's
kid who has the money. The second fallacy of this argument is the
suggestion that if drugs were legalized, we would all start using
them. This assumes we're all closet junkies and that the only thing
keeping us from grabbing a needle is those pesky drug laws.

Califano is right that it's time we "recognized that we are dealing
with the country's No. 1 disease and stopped stigmatizing addicts as
modern-day lepers." There are enough facts and studies available to
prove to any doubter that prevention and treatment work better than
jail without resorting to drug-war propaganda and misinformation.

Jim Tarrant,
St. Louis
- ---
MAP posted-by: Andrew