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Glidden on the Drug Problem

August 01, 1988

As a mental health professional, I work as a primary therapist in a drug and alcohol recovery center in Van Nuys. Most of the opinions I've read or heard in the media regarding drug addiction display a discouraging lack of knowledge and/or experience in this area and, unfortunately, that includes government spokespersons who are paid to provide workable ideas and solutions.

I just finished reading a Times column on how to deal with the drug problem in this country, voiced by David Glidden ("Legalizing Dope: a Life-Threatening Idea," Opinion, July 24). While Glidden at least acknowledges some of the realities of drug addiction, he doesn't seem to be able to apply the facts to the problem. This is no surprise. This country has been in denial for years about the reality of this disease.

For three-quarters of a century, we have been trying the same failed strategies over and over again, expecting different results: prohibit drugs; throw the druggies in jail; interdict drugs at the borders. But failure to learn from past mistakes is a manifestation of the denial which is a primary symptom of addiction itself. This country continues to behave like an addict in its efforts to make the problem go away. Like an addict, we point to other segments of society: the ghettos, the gangs, the dealers, and we blame them. Like an addict, we point to those outside our society: Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, and we blame them. The fact is that, as a society, we promote one of the most toxic of all drugs, alcohol, and we refuse to deal in any realistic way with the drug problem, which is our problem, and no one else's.

We persist in our attempts to control supply rather than demand.

If we were to legalize drugs, license and control their production (and therefore their purity) and their distribution, taxing them as we do alcohol, we would indeed eliminate most of the crime associated with drugs. Furthermore, tax revenues could be mandated for treatment and public education programs, thereby finally addressing the demand side as well as the crime and violence associated with drugs.

There is certainly a very real and frightening risk that drug consumption would, at least initially, increase with legalization. There would be enormous costs associated with implementing such a plan. But continuing to blame others, pointing to enormous but relatively insignificant drug busts and locking the addicts away are all denial of the real problem. The real problem is that we are a nation of addicts, alcoholics, workaholics, compulsive overeaters, gamblers, sexaholics, adult children of alcoholics and co-dependents. We need treatment, not denial. Legalization will allow us to do that, and provide for treatment and education at the same time.

JAMES L. SANDEL

Los Angeles

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