Pubdate: Wed, 09 Jun 1999
Source: Modesto Bee, The (CA)
Copyright: 1999 The Modesto Bee.
Author: Jill Jepson, Community Columnist
Note: Jepson, a Patterson resident, is one of nine community columnists.


In the early part of this century, the Anti-Saloon League argued that if the
bars were closed and alcoholics punished, many of the evils of the day would
be eliminated. They believed drunkenness was a sign of moral weakness and
that it would go away if it were made illegal.

If we were a quick-witted species, we would have learned a lesson from the
Prohibition debacle. Unfortunately, we seem to enjoy repeating our errors ad

Decades after the 18th Amendment was repealed, we are still treating
addiction as a crime rather than an illness. According to Michael Massing,
author of "The Fix," it was, of all people, Richard Nixon who almost got it
right. True, he used public misperceptions about drugs to get himself
elected, but you got to do what you got to do.

Once in office, he did the right thing: He used his "war on drugs" money for
treatment programs. But over the years, our drug policy has taken a
dangerous turn. Carter's drug czar, Lee Dogoloff, wreaked havoc with the
unsubstantiated claim that marijuana leads to the use of hard drugs. Reagan
diverted billions of dollars from treatment to interdiction. Bush nominee
William Bennett single-handedly set medical knowledge back a century by
insisting that drug abuse is not a health problem but a moral one.

And Bill Clinton fired Joycelyn Elders in part because she dared to think
out loud about decriminalizing drugs.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that our national drug policy has
been a colossal joke. Over the past 20 years, $500 billion has been thrown
at the drug crisis, and all we've gotten out of it is a prison system
crammed with drug abusers and a national drug problem that is worse than ever.

Anyone who needs evidence that our drug policies don't work need look no
farther than our own Stanislaus County, where methamphetamine use has
soared. What makes this "joke" spectacularly unfunny is that despite having
some pretty good ways of treating drug addiction, we continually allow
political rhetoric, punitive public attitudes and general confusion about
the nature of drug abuse to get in the way of our using this knowledge to
develop a sensible drug policy. Case in point: methadone.

Unlike many European countries, we prefer to incarcerate heroin addicts than
to treat them. Yet, Treatment with methadone, which stops the craving for
heroin without creating the high, enables addicts to live normal lives and
eliminates the crime associated with heroin addiction. Isn't that what we
want to do -- help addicts and stop crime?

When we look back at the placard-waving women who fought to make drinking a
criminal act, it is easy to excuse them. They meant well, and they had no
way of knowing that alcoholism is a treatable medical condition.

But many years of knowledge about the causes and treatment of substance
abuse lie between us and Prohibition, and our refusal to use that knowledge
cannot be excused.

Jepson, a Patterson resident, is one of nine community columnists.

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