Pubdate: Tue, 29 Mar 2016
Source: New Mexican, The (Santa Fe, NM)
Copyright: 2016 The Santa Fe New Mexican
Author: Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post


America's communities are besieged by a highly dangerous, addictive 
drug. Its users can become agitated and violent, harming themselves 
and family members. It's incredibly toxic and even lethal at high 
doses. Many people who start abusing it are unable to quit. It's 
responsible for nearly 90,000 deaths each year. And in a new survey, 
more than three-quarters of Americans identified it as a serious 
problem in their community.

We're talking, of course, about alcohol.

In a new survey by the APNORC Center for Public Affairs Research on 
American attitudes toward substance use and abuse, 76 percent of 
respondents named alcohol as a serious problem in their communities. 
That's higher than the percentage who named any other drug. More 
people are worried about alcohol than are worried about painkillers, 
cocaine, meth or heroin. And marijuana? That's at the bottom of the list.

Part of this is a simple reflection of the relative prevalence of 
each drug. Many more people drink than use heroin, for instance. So 
comparatively, the typical American is more likely to see the 
negative effects of alcohol in their daily lives.

But the survey results also underscore one of the central problems 
with drug policy as the U.S. has practiced it over the past 40 years. 
Our state and federal bureaucracies consider alcohol separately from 
other drugs, like cocaine and marijuana. This split is evident even 
in the names of the agencies that craft drug policy. It's why the NIH 
has a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism along with a 
separate National Institute on Drug Abuse. It's why the Bureau of 
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms stands apart from the Drug Enforcement 

These distinctions are useful from a legal standpoint - after all, 
booze is legal, while other drugs aren't. But from a scientific 
standpoint, they've never made much sense. The abuse of alcohol and 
other drugs often go hand-in-hand. Among adolescents, the use of 
alcohol often precedes the use of other substances, licit and illicit.

For decades, policymakers vigorously prosecuted a war on 
less-dangerous illicit drugs while basically giving booze a free 
pass. From a public health standpoint, this doesn't make a whole lot 
of sense. For some time now, researchers have been calling on 
lawmakers to shift public health resources "towards alcohol and 
tobacco rather than illicit drugs," as one paper put it last year. 
After all, tens of thousands of lives hang in the balance.

The survey results above suggest that Americans are currently one 
step ahead of lawmakers when it comes to understanding the threat of 
alcohol abuse relative to other drugs.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom