Drug Addiction Is A Medical Problem


by Christopher M. O'Donnell


In Officer Les Barr's recent guest comment in support of the war on drugs, he uses terms such as "deeply disturbed" and "mindboggling" when describing the letter he so vehemently criticizes.

As a litigation attorney, whenever my adversary uses such terms at a hearing, I immediately know that I have struck a nerve and that my opponent's argument is in serious trouble. When he suggests that the war on drugs is "just as important as the war on terrorism," my suspicions are confirmed.

Quite frankly, there is a rapidly growing segment of our society which is very much opposed to the war on drugs for a variety of good reasons and do not consider it heretical to do so. Voices calling for legalization are often well-respected conservatives and include former Secretary of State George Shultz and columnist William F. Buckley, Jr. The reasoning behind the opposition is both economic and medical in nature, and most often involves just good common sense.

First, one cannot deny that it is the war on drugs which makes the 250 pounds of seized marijuana worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, as opposed to its true economic worth of about $100, the cost of transporting it in the absence of drug laws against trafficking and use. This creates a black market which causes drug dealers to become incredibly wealthy and willing to use deadly force to protect their turf.

It is undeniable that the dramatic rise in street gangs and youth violence correlates directly to the war on drugs. The parallels to prohibition are quite obvious. Also consider the tragic loss of American wealth to foreign nations, and the increased taxes the war on drugs necessitates.

Second, we will never be successful treating drug use and addiction as a police problem. It is first and last a medical problem and as a number of European nations such as Switzerland have shown, we can be much more successful in protecting our children if we treat it as such. Youths who stumble into drug use can be rehabilitated much more effectively, and alienated much less, if they are not stigmatized by a criminal record which can destroy their lives long after they have quit using drugs.

Moreover, the destruction caused by the war on drugs is often times greater than the drugs could ever cause. Consider the example of an 11-year-old girl who was raped by her foster parent after turning in her parents for smoking marijuana, thereby causing her and her siblings to be removed from their own loving home. Just why the alcoholic is tolerated as a sick person while a drug addict is persecuted as a criminal is hard to understand.

Finally, if you really believe that legalization, or decriminalization, sends the wrong message to our children, you have forgotten that they are children. Advocates for legalization advocate legalizing use for adults, not for children. Just as with alcohol, children must be taught by their parents that they will some day be old enough to decide for themselves whether to take drugs. Laws won't ever change that since most drugs seem to be readily available even though they are illegal. Should Officer Barr's children ever stumble into drug use, I'm quite sure he will prefer to resort to discipline and health care as a solution, as opposed to the police and the courts.

Perhaps then, the shoe will be on the other foot.

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