War on Drugs ‘Unwinnable,’ Policy Should Focus on Stopping Drug-Related HIV, Op-Ed States
"The war on drugs is really a war on people" consisting of two elements: "the predominant role of criminalization" of all things related to illicit drugs and the "presumption that abstinence -- coerced if necessary -- is the only permissible relationship with these drugs," Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, writes in a New York Times op-ed. That combination makes the war on drugs "unwinnable," he continues. Those who support stricter drug legislation and enforcement often point to the 1980s as a time when "the war on drugs really worked" because illicit drug use reportedly fell by 50% throughout the decade. But in 1980, Nadelmann points out, no one had heard of crack and drug-related HIV infection, two things that "reached epic proportions" in the United States by the end of the decade. A "new way of evaluating drug policies" is needed, he continues. Instead of focusing on arresting those who smoke marijuana -- the "vast majority of drug users," including many who smoke it to relieve medical conditions associated with HIV/AIDS -- the government should instead focus on "reducing overdose deaths, curbing new HIV infections through needle-exchange programs ... and wasting less taxpayer money on ineffective criminal policies," Nadelmann writes. Americans are "victimized when their loved ones are put behind bars on drug charges or when they lose family members to drug-related AIDS," he says. Nadelmann concludes, "We should base our drug policies on scientific evidence and public health precepts. That's the most sensible and compassionate way to reduce drug abuse" (Nadelmann, New York Times, 4/26).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.