Pubdate: Sat, 24 Feb 2001
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Section: Editorial, Page A22
Copyright: 2001 The Washington Post Company
Contact:  1150 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20071
Authors: Eric E Sterling, Peter J Cohen
Note: Eric Sterling is President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation 
in Washington, DC and Peter Cohen is
Chair of the Physician Health Program, Medical Society of the District of 
Columbia, Washington


Letter One:

The movie "Traffic" not only "captures the hopelessness and tragedy of drug 
addiction," as William J. Bennett observed [op-ed, Feb. 18], it captures 
the hopelessness and tragedy of the war on drugs.

The number of addicts needing treatment today is roughly the same as when 
Mr. Bennett left the drug czar's office in 1990 -- 8.9 million persons. The 
number of dead from illegal drugs grew from 9,463 in 1990 to 16,926 in 
1998. Emergency room admissions for illegal drugs grew from 371,208 in 1990 
to 554,932 in 1999.

Illegal drug availability has increased, prices are down and purity is up. 
Yet federal government antidrug spending has nearly doubled, from $ 9.75 
billion in FY '90 to $ 19.2 billion in FY '01. The number of drug arrests 
is up from 1,089,500 in 1990 to 1,532,200 in 1999, and the number of drug 
prisoners is double.

The real lesson is to abandon the approach of zero tolerance advanced by 
Mr. Bennett and adopt a reality-based drug strategy. A conservative 
strategy of regulation of drug use, production and distribution offers the 
only opportunity to achieve controls over the market and the users and 
bring down the social costs.

A drug strategy should not be based on a movie script, as ours still is: 
"Reefer Madness."

Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

Letter Two:

William Bennett's column on the film "Traffic" advocated increased 
treatment, but our government consistently has failed to appropriate 
sufficient funds so that all those desiring or needing treatment can obtain 
it. The same can be said about most health insurance plans.

The criminal justice system may be effective in compelling treatment; 
however, it does not follow that compulsion either is justified or is the 
most effective remedy for what should be treated as a significant public 
health issue.

It is symbolic that the page opposite Mr. Bennett's piece contained an 
editorial arguing against Maryland's auctioning contraband cigarettes. This 
practice typifies the inconsistency of the government's approach -- 
Maryland profits from selling tobacco, a drug that costs at least as many 
lives as those lost from using those deemed "illicit."

Finally, Mr. Bennett spoke of addicts being "cured." As with other chronic 
and potentially relapsing diseases, addiction is never cured, it is only 
put into remission.

Chair, Physician Health Program
Medical Society of the District of Columbia
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