McCaffrey’s Attempt At An Offensive Makes Great Target!

Date: Tue, 29 Jun 1999
Subject: McCaffrey’s Attempt At An Offensive Makes Great Target!

DrugSense FOCUS Alert #113 Tuesday June 29, 1999

McCaffrey’s Attempt At An Offensive Makes Great Target!



DrugSense FOCUS Alert #113

Well, McCzar has finally done it; he’s been goaded (probably by the
press response to last week’s hearings, plus the Geraldo NBC special)
into attempting the impossible: a reasoned defense of the need for
prohibition. This is a heaven-sent opportunity to slay the dragon
intellectually-once and for all. We can never convince the
doctrinaire zanies, but we can persuade reasonable people to consign
prohibitionists to the same intellectual pigeon-hole as creationists;
McC’s just made the classic mistake the French made at Dien Bien Phu-
putting all his eggs in a single basket.

It’s as full of holes as Swiss cheese; it’s central flaw is citing the
fact that drugs may be both addictive and harmful as an imperative for
creation of an additionally harmful and destructive criminal market.

As for his claims that America’s policy has had some success over the
years; mere citation of just some random details of its record is
enough to hoot that one right off the stage. This op-ed should provoke
the immediate & best efforts of as many letter-writers as possible.

Thanks for your effort and support.


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Source: Washington Post (DC)
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Pubdate: Tue, 29 June 1999
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 1999 The Washington Post Company
Address: 1150 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20071
Author: Barry R. McCaffrey
Note: The writer is director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

By Barry McCaffrey

Three-quarters of the U.S. population opposes the legalization of
psychoactive drugs such as heroin, cocaine, LSD, methamphetamine, and
marijuana. Therefore, the term “drug legalization” has rightfully
acquired pejorative connotations. Many supporters of this position
have adopted the label “harm reduction” to soften the impact of an
unpopular proposal that, if passed, would encourage greater
availability and use of drugs — especially among children. The
euphemism of “harm reduction” implies that legalizing dangerous
substances would reduce the harm these substances cause. In fact,
condoning drugs would increase their use and hence their harm.

Drug use imposes an unacceptable risk of harm on the user and others.
The evidence supporting this viewpoint is chilling:

Substance abuse wrecks families. A survey of state child-welfare
agencies found substance abuse to be one of the top two problems
exhibited by 81 percent of families reported for child maltreatment.
Researchers estimate that chemical dependence is present in at least
half of the families involved in the child welfare system. One study
published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed
that non-drug users who live in households where drugs are used are 11
times more likely to be killed than individuals from drug-free households.

Drug-dependent individuals are responsible for a disproportionate
percentage of our nation’s violent and income-generating crimes such
as robbery, burglary or theft. National Institute of Justice surveys
consistently find that between one-half and three-quarters of all
arrestees have drugs in their system at the time of arrest. In 1997, a
third of state prisoners and about one in five federal prisoners said
they had committed the crimes that led to incarceration while under
the influence of drugs.

Injection-drug users place themselves at great risk. A University of
Pennsylvania study of Philadelphia injection-drug users found that
four times as many addicts died from overdose, homicide, heart
disease, renal failure and liver disease as did from causes associated
with HIV disease. Dr. James Curtis, director of addiction services at
Harlem Hospital Center, explains: “It is false, misleading and
unethical to give addicts the idea that they can be intravenous drug
abusers without suffering serious self-injury.”

Clearly, drugs themselves harm users. A significant percentage of all
current drug users are addicted to illegal substances. Addiction is a
brain disease that changes a person’s neurochemistry. For 4 million
chronically addicted people, drug use is not a choice and hence has
little to do with personal liberty. Removing the threat of criminal
sanctions would eliminate the possibility of forced treatment and
condemn countless addicts to miserable lives.

One argument given for drug legalization by harm-reduction advocates
is that the “war against drugs has been lost.” Aside from the fact
that this is not a war, much progress has been made. Current drug
policies are reducing drug use and its consequences. Drug use in this
country has declined by half since 1979. The number of current users
dropped from 25 million in 1979 to 13 million in 1996. The decrease in
current use of cocaine has been even more dramatic.

This is not to say that drug policies cannot be improved. The 1999
National Drug Control Strategy is implementing important changes. The
strategy’s number one goal is prevention. In the past four years, the
administration increased spending on prevention by 55 percent while
spending on treatment rose 25 percent. The strategy calls for more
treatment in the criminal justice system to break the cycle of drugs
and crime.

At root, the debate over drug legalization boils down to a question of
risk. Studies show that the more a product is available and
legitimized, the greater will be its use. If drugs were legalized, the
cost to the individual and society would grow astronomically. Removing
the criminal status associated with drug use and sale would not make
such activity less criminal when drug abuse wrecks young lives. It is
criminal that more money is spent on illegal drugs than on art or
higher education; it is criminal that crack babies are born addicted
and in pain; it is criminal that thousands of adolescents lose their
health and the freedom to create a bright future.

Harm-reduction advocates tolerate drug use because they consider it
part of the human condition that will always be with us. Many other
perennial problems such as racism, theft and aggression cannot be
extinguished entirely, but we still resist their damage and
criminalize the practices. No one argues that we should legalize these
activities to make them more sanitary or provide tax revenues.

On a judicial level, the question of drug legalization comes down to
whether we should legalize destructive behavior. With respect to the
individual, society at large and the environment, American
jurisprudence has run in the opposite direction. Americans have
decided that people do not have a right to ride motorcycles without
wearing helmets, drive cars without using seat belts, pollute the
environment at will, or endanger the self and others by refusing
vaccination or similar life-saving health measures. In general, our
laws indicate that self-destructive activity should not be permitted
or condoned. Drug consumption damages the brain, which in turn
produces other forms of destructive behavior. U.S. law does not grant
people the right to destroy themselves or others. Addictive drugs were
criminalized because they are harmful; they are not harmful because
they were criminalized.

The writer is director of the Office of National Drug Control



Drug czar Barry McCaffrey observes that despite the “pejorative
connotations” attached to the term “drug legalization”, one-quarter of
Americans– or 68.1 million citizens-would favor legalization. Of
course, reform advocates don’t want “legalization” as commonly
understood; we desire a regulated market like the liquor and tobacco
markets, not an unregulated free-for-all. Unfortunately, the dangers
of a completely uncontrolled market are exactly what current drug
policies deliver most effectively.

McCaffrey claims that drugs are illegal because they are harmful, not
vice versa. This claim runs counter to every lesson America learned
from alcohol Prohibition. During that “Noble Experiment”, deaths from
poisoned liquor skyrocketed, cities were controlled by bootlegger
gangs, and children had equal access to liquor (because dealers never
ask for ID). The parallels to our Drug War are hard to miss;
consider, especially, the fact that kids can generally get
(unregulated) marijuana more easily than (regulated) alcohol.

Prohibition was well-intentioned, but law enforcement is the wrong
tool for solving a social and health problem. Regulated markets and
treatment on demand are significantly more effective.

Keith Sanders

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