Pubdate: Mon, 29 Nov 1999
Date: 11/29/1999
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Author: Dr. Gene Tinelli

Sen. Grams wrote a touching letter about his personal pain due to his
son's poor relationships with psychoactive substances. However, using
his pain as a rationalization for our current drug policies will
produce more pain and suffering, not less.

If only it were as simple as rounding up all the drugs and drug
dealers. But drug use has been present in all societies throughout
recorded history. It is present now, and it will be pres ent in the
future. Punitive drug laws only increase the number of those addicted.
In fact, there are no public health benefits to our war on drugs --

The harms are as general as they are pernicious. They start by driving
people from public health into shooting galleries. They are also
phenomenally expensive. It takes approximately $500,000 to imprison a
drug user.

By not focusing on public health, current drug laws increase the rates
of HIV and hepatitis B and C. They increase crime and violence.
Research shows that alcohol is the only drug whose use increases the
intensity of violence, yet I don't hear any of those who want more
punitive drug laws advocating incarcerating alcohol users. Alcohol
prohibition was a failure.

For our youth who choose to use psychoactive substances, we should
advocate abstinence and also teach them about the difference between
low-risk and high-risk behaviors associated with substance use. We
should also be holding them responsible for their behaviors,
especially violent acts.

But we need to end this drug war now because it's not a war against
drugs, it's a war against people, particularly poor people of color.
The goal should be to reduce the individual and community harms due to
substance use.

Drug use is not a moral issue. It always has been a public health

Dr. Gene Tinelli, addiction psychiatrist, State University of New
York, Syracuse, N.Y.