Pubdate: Mon, 02 Jan 2012
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2011 The New York Times Company
Author: Kevin A. Sabet
Note: Kevin A. Sabet, a drug-policy consultant, was a senior adviser
in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2011.


ACCORDING to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, drug 
overdoses have increased almost six-fold in the last 30 years. They 
now represent the leading cause of accidental death in the United 
States, having overtaken motor vehicle accidents for the first time on record.

One might expect such news to spur politicians to explore new options 
for drug abuse treatment, prevention and enforcement. Instead, at 
precisely the wrong time, extremists on both sides have taken over 
the conversation. Unless we change the tone of the debate to give 
drug-policy centrists a voice, America's drug problem will only get worse.

Indeed, moderates have historically been key contributors to both the 
debate and the practice of effective drug policy. In 1914, 
Representative Francis B. Harrison, a New York Democrat, worked with 
Republicans and President Woodrow Wilson to pass the first major 
piece of federal anti-drug legislation, in response to a surge in 
heroin and cocaine use.

Other moderates, from Theodore Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy, made 
drug policy an important part of their domestic agendas. President 
Bill Clinton worked closely with Bob Dole, the Republican Senate 
majority leader, on sensible measures like drug courts and community 
policing. And Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is the reason there 
is a drug czar in the first place, having pushed the idea for years 
before President Ronald Reagan approved it.

So where are the moderates now? Certainly, the current political 
climate makes it hard to come together on any question. Republicans 
are too timid to touch any domestic policy issue, like effective drug 
prevention and treatment, that might appear to cost taxpayers more 
money. And too many Democrats have yet to recognize that drugs are an 
issue that they and their constituents should care deeply about: 
after all, drug abuse and its consequences affect the most vulnerable 
in society in especially harmful ways.

In their place, a few tough-on-crime conservatives and die-hard 
libertarians dominate news coverage and make it appear as if 
legalizing drugs and "enforcement only" strategies were the only 
options, despite the fact that the public supports neither.

This stalemate comes just as a new range of cost-effective, 
evidence-based approaches to prevention, treatment and the criminal 
justice system are within our reach. We know much more about 
addiction than we did 20 years ago; with enough support, we could 
pursue promising medications and behavioral therapies, even a 
possible vaccine against some drug addictions.

Meanwhile, smart, innovative law enforcement strategies that employ 
carrots and sticks - treatment and drug testing complete with swift 
but modest consequences for continued drug use, or incentives for 
abstinence - have produced impressive results, through drug courts or 
closely supervised probation programs.

And drug prevention has moved from a didactic classroom exercise to a 
science of teaching life skills and changing environmental norms 
based on local data and community capacity. We now know that recovery 
from addiction is possible, and that policies that give former 
addicts a second chance are in everyone's interest.

Most recently, R. Gil Kerlikowske, President Obama's top drug policy 
adviser, introduced a sensible four-point plan to curb prescription 
drug abuse: educate prescribers, parents and young people about the 
dangers of overdose; shut down illegitimate "clinics" that freely 
sell these drugs; establish electronic monitoring at pharmacies; and 
encourage the proper disposal of unused medications. Yet his plan 
received little attention from the news media or Capitol Hill.

Of course, there is no magic bullet for America's drug problem. The 
magnitude and complexity of our drug problem require us to constantly 
refine and improve our policies through thoughtful analysis, 
innovation and discussion.

Moderates should lead that conversation. To remain silent not only 
betrays widely shared values of compassion and justice for the most 
vulnerable. It also leaves policy in the hands of extremists who 
would relegate a very serious and consequential discussion to 
frivolous and dangerous quarters.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom