Pubdate: Sun, 23 Jan 2005
Source: Times Record News (Wichita Falls, TX)
Copyright: 2005 The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Matt Terrell
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Youth)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)


Expert Says Prevention at Early Ages Key to the Fight

The drug war is a failing campaign, and it costs taxpayers billions of 
dollars to fight battle after losing battle, a drug policy expert said at a 
League of Women Voters meeting Saturday.

Suzanne Wills, a board member of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, outlined 
an unflattering history of what America has accomplished in its crusade 
against illegal drugs.

Her history lesson is laced with tales of lawmakers who ignore the science 
behind addiction and corporate giants who profit from the drug war.

Underneath the misinformation and greed is a nation still hooked on drugs, 
she said.

"We have some of the highest rates of illegal drug use in the world, and we 
have some of the youngest first-time user ages for heroin, marijuana and 
cocaine." Wills said. "The Dutch people, including Dutch teens, use drugs 
at half the rate we do, and marijuana is legal there."

Drug use is rampant, but more than $40 billion a year is spent fighting it. 
Wills wants to know where that money is going if it isn't working.

"Drug czars gave $22 million to the TV networks to make anti-drug scripts 
and commercial spots in their shows," Wills said. "Now some researchers are 
showing there is no evidence to support that ads deter drug use. There was 
actually evidence to support an increase in use by teenage girls who saw 
the ads."

The problems come with how the government should deal with drug addicts - 
do we lock them up or treat them?

Wills said the prevailing attitude is, build more jails and put more people 
in. That doesn't necessarily work with a meth addict, who comes out of jail 
sick, angry and ready to find their next hit, she said. It also doesn't 
work for the nonviolent users, who were never a threat to society.

"Drug treatment is much more effective than prison time," she said.

Weaning U.S. courts off of prison sentences will be a hard task, mostly 
because there are so many corporate forces working against it, Wills said. 
She talked about companies that close down their operation in one town just 
to open in another to use cheap prison labor.

"It's worth it for prisons to keep people in there longer because of these 
labor opportunities," Wills said. "Longer sentencing means a more stable 

John Hirschi, a retired Texas state representative, said after Wills' 
presentation that it was hard to get things done in the legislature because 
of certain lobbyists.

"There were tremendous vested interests in the prisons, and it was 
extremely hard to pass legislation because of those who profit from the 
growth of the prison system," Hirschi said.

Pharmaceutical companies are also hurting the fight against drugs, Wills 
said. They have a big time interest in making sure marijuana isn't 
legalized because it can take the place of several pain relief medications 
for cancer and AIDS patients.

"Marijuana would compete against hundreds of companies for pennies on the 
dollar," Wills said. "They don't want that."

Besides treatment for addicts, a better way of fighting the drug war is 
prevention at an early age, Wills said. A mother at the presentation agreed.

"If parents will sit down and lay a foundation, the children will respond," 
Tracy Reece said. "They will let you know what's going on, as long as you 
let them know you'll understand."
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