Pubdate: Tue, 24 Aug 1999
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (Canada)
Contact:  Dr. Perry Kendall


In his Aug. 21 article, "Simplistic solutions to illicit drugs won't solve
the problem," Ken Lane refers;, somewhat dismissively, to "liberal media
types, pro-drug spin doctors and the occasional provincial health officer."
As the senior public health officer for B.C. I would like to assure your
readers that I am not "pro-drug." Nor, for the record, was my predecessor
Dr. John Millar, nor are B.C.'s medical health officers.

We are, however, deeply concerned over the individual and societal harms
caused by both licit and illicit substance abuse, and in regards to the
latter class of substances have produced reports calling for changes to the
way that we, as a society, view and treat substance abusers.

Among the recommendations for an effective approach is the recognition that
addiction is a disease of the brain, that prevention and education are
critical, that a range of treatment approaches (including harm reduction
activities, drug courts, maintenance and abstinence) need to be available,
and that based on the best evidence available, treating substance abuse and
addictive illness primarily as a criminal activity is costly, ineffective
and inhumane.

This approach, which draws heavily on the experience of European nations
who have actually implemented and evaluated it, runs counter to the
prevailing ethos in the United States. It is, however, supported by policy
groups ranging from the prestigious Rand Institute to B.C.'s own Fraser

As for suggesting that concerns over present policies are limited to
"liberal media types," the following quotation from a May 18, 1998,
editorial from the Globe and Mail suggests that conservative media types
also have concerns over present drug control strategies:

"Irrationality is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting
different results. Judged by this yardstick, the illicit drug policies of
most Western governments are indeed irrational. These policies do not
achieve their stated ends - reducing the supply of drugs, cutting crime,
making citizens safer or weakening organized crime - but rather the reverse."

The editorial goes on to conclude, "Prohibition does not work and cannot
work, and it costs are higher than those of properly supervised and
regulated access to drugs."

Complex, important social issues call for informed discussion and public
debate. Consensus may indeed by difficult to achieve, but discourse is
seldom facilitated by labelling those who proffer views that differ from
our own.

Dr. Perry Kendall is B.C.'s provincial health officer.

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