More Drug Tests And Forced Treatment Are Not The Answer

Date: Fri, 14 Apr 2000
Subject: More Drug Tests And Forced Treatment Are Not The Answer

DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 169 April 14, 2000

More Drug Tests And Forced Treatment Are Not The Answer


NOTE: Please forgive the duplication. The contact info was incorrect
in the original alert. Please send your LTEs to the Wall Street
Journal _NOT_not the Boston Globe. Contact info below.

DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 169 April 14, 2000

As the failure of the drug war becomes impossible to ignore, even many
drug warriors understand the tactics of its supporters are failing.
John Q. Wilson, the Pepperdine professor who occasionally tries to
give the drug war a veneer of academic and moral credibility, is at
least honest enough to see that sending more resources to Colombia is
not going to affect the level of drug use inside the US.
Unfortunately, as he writes in the Wall Street Journal this week,
Wilson believes that more drug testing and more coerced treatment for
illegal drug users will be a wonderful success while “legalization”
would be a disaster.

To make his case he uses facts selectively. While suggesting the
Netherlands’ more liberal policy of dealing with marijuana has caused
an increase in marijuana use, he ignores the fact that rates of
marijuana and hard drug use are lower for Dutch kids than American

Worse than his abuse of the facts is his attempt to dehumanize drug
users by calling them “barbarians … incapable of being improved by
free and equal discussion.” Wilson has spouted similar justifications
for totalitarianism for more than a decade, which makes it clear he is
incapable of being improved by free and equal discussion. Please write
a letter to editors at the Wall Street Journal to identify the real

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Source: Wall Street Journal (US)



Pubdate: Thu, 13 Apr 2000
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2000 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Section: A Page: 20
FAX: (212) 416-2658
Address: 200 Liberty Street, New York, NY 10281
Author: James Q. Wilson
Note: Mr. Wilson is a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University
and author of “The Moral Sense,” available in paperback from Free Press.


Neither Legalizing Drugs, Nor Trying To Block Supply, Is Likely To Work.
There Is A Third Way: Reduce Demand Through Manditory Testing.

The current Senate deliberation over aid to Colombia aimed at fighting
narcotics reminds us that there are two debates over how the
government ought to deal with dangerous drugs. The first is about
their illegality and the second is about their control. People who
wish to legalize drugs and those who wish to curtail their supply
believe that their methods will reduce crime. Both these views are
mistaken, but there is a third way. Advocates of legalization think
that both buyers and sellers would benefit. People who can buy drugs
freely and at something like free market prices would no longer have
to steal to afford cocaine or heroin; dealers would no longer have to
use violence and corruption to maintain their market share. Though
drugs may harm people, reducing this harm would be a medical problem
not a criminal justice one. Crime would drop sharply.

Prices Would Fall

But there is an error in this calculation. Legalizing drugs means
letting the price fall to its competitive rate (plus taxes and
advertising costs). That market price would probably be somewhere
between one third and 1/20th of the illegal price. And more than the
market price would fall. As Harvard’s Mark Moore has pointed out, the
“risk price”–that is, all the hazards associated with buying drugs,
from being arrested to being ripped off–would also fall, and this
decline might be more important than the lower purchase price.

Under a legal regime, the consumption of low priced, low risk drugs
would increase dramatically. We do not know by how much, but the
little evidence we have suggests a sharp rise. Until 1968 Britain
allowed doctors to prescribe heroin. Some doctors cheated, and their
medically unnecessary prescriptions helped increase the number of
known heroin addicts by a factor of 40. As a result, the government
abandoned the prescription policy in favor of administering heroin in
clinics and later replacing heroin with methadone.

When the Netherlands ceased enforcing laws against the purchase or
possession of marijuana, the result was a sharp increase in its use.
Cocaine and heroin create much greater dependency, and so the increase
in their use would probably be even greater.

The average user would probably commit fewer crimes if these drugs
were sold legally. But the total number of users would increase
sharply. A large fraction of these new users would be unable to keep
a steady job. Unless we were prepared to support them with welfare
payments, crime would be one of their main sources of income. That
is, the number of drug related crimes per user might fall even as the
total number of drug related crimes increased. Add to the list of
harms more deaths from overdose, more babies born to addicted mothers,
more accidents by drug influenced automobile drivers and fewer people
able to hold jobs or act as competent parents.

Treating such people would become far more difficult. As psychiatrist
Sally Satel has written on this page, many drug users will not enter
and stay in treatment unless they are compelled to do so. Phoenix
House, the largest national residential drug treatment program, rarely
admits patients who admit they have a problem and need help. The
great majority are coerced by somebody–a judge, probation officer or
school official–into attending. Phoenix House CEO Mitchell Rosenthal
opposes legalization, and for good reason. Legalization means less
coercion, and that means more addicts and addicts who are harder to

Douglas Anglin, drawing on experiences in California and elsewhere,
has shown that people compelled to stay in treatment do at least as
well as those who volunteer for it, and they tend (of necessity) to
stay in the program longer. If we legalize drugs, the chances of
treatment making a difference are greatly reduced. And as for drug
use prevention,. forget it. Try telling your children not to use a
legal substance.

But people who want to keep drugs illegal have problems of their own.
The major thrust of government spending has been to reduce the supply
of drugs by cutting their production overseas, intercepting their
transfer into the U.S. and arresting dealers. Because of severe
criminal penalties, especially on handlers of crack cocaine, our
prisons have experienced a huge increase in persons sentenced on drug
charges. In the early 1980s, about 1/12th of all prison inmates were
in for drug convictions; now well over one third are.

No one can be certain how imprisoning drug suppliers affects drug use,
but we do know that an arrested drug dealer is easily replaced.
Moreover, the government can never seize more than a small fraction of
the drugs entering the country, a fraction that is easily replaced.

Emphasizing supply over treatment is dangerous. Not only do we spend
huge sums on it; not only do we drag a reluctant U.S. military into
the campaign; we also heighten corruption and violence in countries
such as Colombia and Mexico. The essential fact is this: Demand will
produce supply.

We can do much more to reduce demand. Some four million Americans are
currently on probation or parole. From tests done on them when they
are jailed, we know that half or more had a drug problem when
arrested. Though a lot of drug users otherwise obey the law (or at
least avoid getting arrested), probationers and parolees constitute
the hard core of dangerous addicts. Reducing their demand for drugs
ought to be our highest priority. Mark Kleiman of UCLA has suggested
a program of “testing and control”: Probationers and parolees would be
required to take frequent drug tests–say, twice weekly–as a
condition of remaining on the street. These tests are inexpensive and
show immediate results. If you failed the test, you would spend more
time in jail; if you passed it, you would remain free. This approach
would be an inducement for people to enter and stay in treatment.

This would require some big changes in how we handle offenders.
Police, probation and parole officers would be responsible for
conducting these tests, and more officers would have to be hired.
Probation and parole authorities would have to be willing to sanction
a test failure by immediate incarceration, initially for a short
period (possibly a weekend), and then for longer periods if the
initial failure were repeated. Treatment programs at little or no cost
to the user would have to be available not only in every prison, but
for every drug dependent probationer and parolee. These things are
not easily done. Almost every state claims to have an intensive
community supervision program, but few offenders are involved in them,
the frequency with which they are contacted is low, and most were
released from super vision without undergoing any punishment for
violating its conditions.

But there is some hope. Our experience with drug courts suggests that
the procedural problems can be overcome. In such courts, several
hundred of which now exist, special judges oversee drug dependent
offenders, insisting that they work to overcome their habits. While
under drug court supervision, offenders reduce drug consumption and,
at least for a while after leaving the court, offenders are less
likely to be arrested. Our goal ought to be to extend meaningful
community supervision to all probationers and parolees, especially
those who have a serious drug or alcohol problem. Efforts to test Mr.
Kleiman’s proposals are under way in Connecticut and Maryland.

If this demand reduction strategy works, it can be expanded. Drug
tests can be given to people who apply for government benefits, such
as welfare and public housing. Some critics will think this is an
objectionable intrusion. But giving benefits without conditions
weakens the character building responsibility of society.

Prevent Harm to Others

John Stuart Mill, the great libertarian thinker, argued that the only
justifiable reason for restricting human liberty is to prevent harm to
others. Serious drug abuse does harm others. We could, of course,
limit government action to remedying those harms without addressing
their causes, but that is an uphill struggle, especially when the
harms fall on unborn children. Fetal drug syndrome imposes large
costs on infants who have had no voice in choosing their fate.

Even Mill was clear that full liberty cannot be given to children or
barbarians. By “barbarians” he meant people who are incapable of
being improved by free and equal discussion. The life of a serious
drug addict–the life of someone driven by drug dependency to
prostitution and crime–is the life of a barbarian.'”



To the Editor:
James Q. Wilson’s recommendation that present drug policy be retained
and modified by increased drug testing and compulsory treatment (A
New Strategy for the War on Drugs, April 13) – is best seen as an
unwitting example of the vicious thinking which spawned our
catastrophic drug war; not as a basis for any rationale public policy.

Space won’t permit a full listing of Wilson’s sins against both logic
and history; the first is his assumption that the major purpose of any
drug policy is reducing crime. In truth, crime wasn’t associated with
drug use until America initiated drug prohibition. Before 1915 users
weren’t criminals and addicts didn’t have to steal.

Another erroneous assumption is his equation of drug use with
addiction in attempting to justify forcing those who test positive
into “treatment.” Most repeat users of any agent do not become
addicts; they either continue sporadic recreational use for the
balance of their lives or give it up completely; much like the
situation with (legal) alcohol. Even where daily compulsive use is
acknowledged to be harmful to health, our society hasn’t seen fit to
force (legal) alcoholics and nicotine addicts into treatment.

In his last paragraph, Wilson reveals the full dimensions of his
inhumanity and arrogance. By his definition, all “addicts” (users) are
“barbarians,” thus they don’t deserve full liberty. This is neither
sociology nor responsible policy; it’s the cant of the bogus religion
of repression intended to grace a brave new zero-tolerance world.

No, thanks.

Tom O’Connell MD

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