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Commentary | PERSPECTIVE ON DRUGS

Legalization Would Be the Wrong Direction

Hiding just beneath the theory of harm reduction is a whole other agenda in dealing with substance abuse.

July 27, 1998|BARRY R. McCAFFREY | Barry R. McCaffrey is director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

As a society, we are successfully addressing drug use and its consequences. In the past 20 years, drug use in the United States decreased by half and casual cocaine use by 70%. Drug-related murders and spending on drugs decreased by more than 30% as the illegal drug market shrunk.

Still, we are faced with many challenges, including educating a new generation of children who may have little experience with the negative consequences of drug abuse, increasing access to treatment for 4 million addicted Americans and breaking the cycle of drugs and crime that has caused a massive increase in the number of people incarcerated. We need prevention programs, treatment and alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders. Drug legalization is not a viable policy alternative because excusing harmful practices only encourages them.

At best, harm reduction is a half-way measure, a half-hearted approach that would accept defeat. Increasing help is better than decreasing harm. The "1998 National Drug Control Strategy"--a publication of the Office of National Drug Control Policy that presents a balanced mix of prevention, treatment, stiff law enforcement, interdiction and international cooperation--is a blueprint for reducing drug abuse and its consequences by half over the coming decade. With science as our guide and grass-roots organizations at the forefront, we will succeed in controlling this problem.

Pretending that harmful activity will be reduced if we condone it under the law is foolhardy and irresponsible.

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