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Drug War

July 26, 1998

* Kudos to Robert Scheer for his overview of the futility of our current drug abuse efforts in general and those of the drug czar in particular (Column Left, July 21). We are all concerned about drug abuse in our families and our society. But drug czar Barry McCaffrey, an ex-general, has become obsessed with the medical marijuana issue.

The general has changed the "war on drugs" into a "war on physicians and their patients"! McCaffrey keeps threatening to criminally prosecute physicians for talking to their patients, if they suggest (not even prescribe) marijuana for symptom relief for any medical illness, no matter how terminal the patient. Emboldened by this, Sen. Jesse Helms has introduced a bill stating that the physician must serve not less than eight years in the federal penitentiary if the patient was even one day under 21 when the medical marijuana suggestion was given.

In response to this folly, medical organizations have quickly adopted medical marijuana policy statements reaffirming that physicians can and, in fact, should talk to their patients about all health-related matters. And a federal judge has issued a restraining order against the government.

J. THOMAS UNGERLEIDER MD

Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry

UCLA Medical Center

* Thank you, Robert Scheer, for being the first and I think only person in the mainstream press (and certainly The Times) to cover McCaffrey's circus trip to Europe. While the Internet has been abuzz with the general's foolish misstatements, The Times and other media have been silent on this story.

DAVID G. PORTER

Anaheim

* Scheer points fingers about factual inaccuracies. However, he himself disregards the facts. Scheer wrongly says we are waging a "war" against drugs. Federal anti-drug efforts are more akin to fighting cancer--the primary tools are prevention and treatment. The largest percentage budget increase has been in prevention: 15% or $256 million in this year's budget alone. Treatment funds are up 33% over the last three years.

Scheer is wrong about Dutch youth drug use. The lifetime prevalence of marijuana use among Dutch adolescents is 30.2%; the U.S. prevalence is 10.6% (1992, most recent data available). Scheer misstates how the Netherlands handles drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines. In the Netherlands the use and sale of these drugs is addressed with criminal law, not by medicine. Dutch seizures of drugs are up. Dutch prison populations have more than doubled in the last 10 years, the bulk of this increase from violations of the Opiate Act.

Children using marijuana experience learning difficulties and socialization problems and increase their risk of being in car and other accidents. Scheer is dead wrong about marijuana-related fatalities. A study of 182 fatal truck accidents revealed that 12.5% of the drivers had used marijuana--the same percentage as alcohol. Educating children about the dangers of marijuana grows more difficult each time Scheer and others echo the false belief that marijuana is not dangerous.

ROBERT HOUSMAN

Chief Policy Advisor

Office of National Drug Control Policy, Washington

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