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 -- none. 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 issue. Dr. Gene Tinelli, addiction psychiatrist, State University of New York, Syracuse, N.Y.