Pubdate: Mon, 02 Apr 2001
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Section: Nation/World, Pg 8, Letters
Copyright: 2001, The Tribune Co
Author: Robert Sharpe, Program Officer, The Lindesmith Center - Drug Policy 


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the drug testing of pregnant women on 
constitutional  grounds, but there are compelling health arguments as well. 
If the invasive practice had continued,  the threat of criminal sanctions 
would discourage pregnant women who use drugs from seeking  prenatal care. 
This would only increase maternal and infant mortality and morbidity.

The zero-tolerance approach to illicit drugs compounds the problem. When 
drug use is driven  underground, individuals suffering from chronic 
addiction, pregnant or otherwise, are less likely  to seek treatment. Would 
alcoholics seek help if doing so were tantamount to confessing to 
criminal  activity?

The threat of prison that coerced treatment relies upon can backfire when 
it's actually put to  use. Prisons transmit violent habits and values 
rather than reduce them. The vast majority of drug  users hold jobs and pay 
taxes. Turning potentially productive members of society into 
hardened  criminals serves no purpose.

Alcohol, incidentally, causes the greatest number of and the most severe 
birth defects. It kills  more people annually than all illegal drugs 
combined. If health outcomes determined drug laws  instead of cultural 
norms, alcohol and tobacco would both be illegal and marijuana, a 
relatively  harmless drug, would not. It's time to declare peace in the 
failed drug war and start treating all substance abuse, legal or otherwise, 
as the public health problem it is.

Robert Sharpe
Washington, D.C.
Program officer, The Lindesmith Center Drug Policy Foundation
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