Pubdate: Sun, 27 May 2001
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2001 The Sun-Times Co.
Author: Brian Roth


There is a persistent assumption that drives the war on drugs' focus on 
punishment rather than treatment. It spoiled your otherwise thoughtful 
editorial ["Drug czar choice more of the same," May 14] when you breezily 
referred to drug use as a "moral failing . . . on a personal level."

Once again, let's discuss what the medical and treatment establishment has 
been telling us for decades. Drug abuse is an illness. I have worked in 
substance abuse treatment for 25 years. I believe my experience and 
education qualify me to report what has become almost proverbial in this 
arena: These are not bad people who need to get good; they are sick people 
who need to get well. I thank God that the people we treat for alcohol and 
other drug abuse are not, at their cores, "moral failures." The recovery 
process would be infinitely more difficult.

Isn't it an irony that we have a president (one who vigorously upholds 
draconian approaches to drug abuse) who is himself a recovering alcoholic?

The greatest irony, however, is what we do to the poor African-American kid 
who gets arrested for possession of marijuana or a few rocks of crack 
cocaine. That young man will be subject to prosecution and stigmatized for 
the rest of his life, even if he never touches a drug again. Recall that 
President Bush recently committed to renewed enforcement of a law that 
prevents people who've been convicted of even minor drug charges from 
obtaining federal financial aid for education.

Perhaps it's time to recognize the moral failure in America's reluctance to 
admit the shameful hypocrisy and injustice of its war on drugs.

Brian Roth, Evanston
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