Is Support For The War On Drugs A Brain Disease?

Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999
Subject: Is Support For The War On Drugs A Brain Disease?

DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 122 August 29,1999
Washington Post: Is Support For The War On Drugs A Brain Disease?



DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 122 August 29,1999
Washington Post: Is Support For The War On Drugs A Brain Disease?

It has become increasingly common for commentators to admit the
punitive strategies of the war on drugs have failed. Sadly, instead of
acknowledging that a “drug-free America” is merely a fantasy of
repression, they imagine the nation can really rid itself of drugs
through treatment.

An editor at the Washington Post entered similar territory this week.
While it’s always good to hear a condemnation of law enforcement-based
drug policy, the faith that treatment will triumph over drugs raises
troubling questions. For example: Is there a distinction between
illegal “brain disease” and legal “brain disease”? If addiction is a
“brain disease,” how much tinkering are researchers willing to do on
our brains as a preventative measure? Is it more desirable to be
locked in a state prison or a state treatment facility?

Drug users who think they will benefit from treatment certainly should
get it. But the idea that drug use will simply disappear thanks to
treatment is, at the very least, naive. (For a great deal more on this
topic, see Stanton Peele’s website at and in
particular his review of the book “The Fix” at

Please write a letter to the Washington Post expressing encouragement
over the call to move away from punitive drug strategies, but also
expressing caution about viewing treatment as the ultimate weapon in
the drug war.

Thanks for your effort and support.


It’s not what others do it’s what YOU do


Phone, fax etc.)

Please post a copy your letter or report your action to the MAPTalk
list if you are subscribed, or by E-mailing a copy directly to Your letter will then be forwarded to the list with
so others can learn from your efforts and be motivated to follow suit

This is VERY IMPORTANT as it is the only way we have of gauging our
impact and effectiveness.


Source: Washington Post (DC)

Contact: Feedback:

NOTE: there is no direct Email address for sending your letter to the
Washington Post We recommend you compose your letter off-line and
paste it into the window provided at the URL above.


Pubdate: Fri, 27 Aug 1999
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 1999 The Washington Post Company
Address: 1150 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20071
Author: Stephen S. Rosenfeld


No public policy argument is so familiar and fatiguing, yet so central
and urgent, as the decades-long battle over whether to focus more on
the supply end of our illicit-drug problem or on the demand end.

I got into the issue 30 years ago partly in response to a call by
now-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), then working for President
Richard Nixon to stanch the flow of illegal drugs at the “source.” The
State Department’s traditional indifference to engagement in gritty
law enforcement seemed to Moynihan, and in turn to me, as outdated and
dangerous. He had a role in the Nixon administration’s experiment
with supply interdiction: It produced what he now acknowledges to be
“at most a brief success” in closing down the “French Connection,”
while “opium and heroin production merely moved elsewhere.”

This is pretty much the story of supply interdiction since then.
Prodigies of law enforcement are overwhelmed by the ease with which
traffickers can meet a seemingly insatiable American demand. Moynihan
confronted the political reality behind policy as a U.S. senator in
1988 while working to focus new drug legislation on users. Some 60
percent of the money was to be earmarked for demand reduction, 40 for
supply reduction.

But, Moynihan now relates, “as the bill made its way through House and
Senate deliberations and quasi-conference committee negotiations, its
emphasis shifted incrementally from demand reduction to supply
reduction and, especially, to law enforcement. I suppose this was
inevitable. Fear of crime far outstripped concern for addicts. And
just a few weeks away from the 1988 elections. . . . The deal was
a 60-40 ratio in favor of demand reduction; in the end it was the
other way around. Now the ratio is about two-to-one the other way.”

This episode and much else shaped the conclusions he presented at a
Yale conference on the century of American experience with heroin.
“While the science of drug abuse and addiction holds great therapeutic
promise,” he said, “the politics are self-defeating, punitive and

What? The science of drug abuse and addiction holds great therapeutic
promise? An emphasis on cutting down the demand for illegal drugs, on
focusing on users rather than producers and traffickers, appeals to
many of us who are frustrated by the shortfalls of law enforcement and
troubled by the foreign-policy complications of a supply-oriented
strategy. Up to now, however, there don’t appear to have been the
research breakthroughs that would make a treatment-oriented policy a
medically, economically and politically feasible alternative to
sending in the cops.

I am not a student of the science, but let me cite Moynihan and one of
his gurus:

Moynihan: “Ours surely is the great age of discovery in the field of
neuroscience. We are exploring the brain, not least with respect to the
effect of drugs. . . . I think it safe to assume that we may never win
a ‘war’ against drugs. Perhaps the closest we can come, through scientific
research, will be to identify ‘pre-exposure’ vulnerability in the
population and develop some sort of active or passive immunization. We’re
making progress. . . . Supply interdiction doesn’t work, although
absent it things could be even worse. We spend twice as much on it as we
do on biomedical research. But the latter moves.”

Alan Leshner, director, National Institute on Drug Abuse: “If we know that
criminals are drug addicted, it is no longer reasonable to simply
incarcerate them. If they have a brain disease, imprisoning them without
treatment is futile. If they are left untreated, their recidivism rates to
both crime and drug use are frighteningly high; however, if addicted
criminals are treated while in prison, both types of recidivism can be
reduced dramatically. . . .

“Understanding addiction as a brain disease explains in part why
historic policy strategies focusing solely on the social or criminal
justice aspects of drug use and addiction have been unsuccessful.
They are missing at least half of the issue. If the brain is the core
of the problem, attending to the brain needs to be a core part of the

Moynihan: “The outcome of narcotics prohibition over the past century has
been to concentrate drug abuse and addiction principally among an urban
underclass most don’t know and for whom there is currently little public
understanding or sympathy. So Congress and the public continue to fixate
on supply interdiction and harsher sentences (without treatment) as the
‘solution’ to our drug problems, and adamantly refuse to acknowledge what
Dr. Leshner and others now know and are telling us.”


I read Stephen S. Rosenfeld’s comments on drug strategy with interest,
but they offered little comfort to me. While Rosenfeld is completely
correct to describe the inability of punitive policies to end drug
problems, his hope that treatment will serve as a magic bullet in the
drug war is misguided.

There’s no doubt treatment is less expensive than incarceration, and
it may be more effective in addressing drug problems, but that’s a
long stretch from being a final solution. As addiction researchers
like Stanton Peele have pointed out for years, more people end drug
use on their own than through treatment programs. And while it’s true
that the federal drug budget has favored interdiction over treatment
and prevention, the amount of money being spent on treatment has still
risen dramatically in recent years.

Rosenfeld and others may see treatment research only in a positive
context, but there can be a dark side. Let us not forget that
psychiatry was used as a weapon against those who disagreed with state
policies in the former Soviet Union. Will it also be used against
those who don’t respect the U.S. government determinations about which
drugs are “good” (like alcohol) and which drugs are “bad” (like marijuana)?

Rosenfeld quotes NIDA director Alan Leshner’s statements about “brain
disease” being at the root of drug use. Perhaps Leshner would be
better serving the nation by looking into the possibility that “brain
disease” among legislators is responsible for so many years of
punitive anti-drug policies. These policies have caused more damage
than drugs themselves. If science can make such politicians act more
responsibly, I’d have a lot more faith in its ability to solve all
other drug problems.

Stephen Young

IMPORTANT: Always include your address and telephone

Please note: If you choose to use this letter as a model please modify it
at least somewhat so that the paper does not receive numerous copies of the
same letter and so that the original author receives credit for his/her work.

ADDITIONAL INFO to help you in your letter writing

3 Tips for Letter Writers

Letter Writers Style Guide

Prepared by Stephen Young – Focus
Alert Specialist