Reformers Call for a “New Bottom Line”

For Immediate Release: September 7, 2006 Contact: Tony Newman (646) 335-5384 OR Bill Piper (202) 669-6430 New Government Survey Shows Illegal Drug Use Rates Holding Steady; Drug War Critics Point to Overwhelming Failure Death, Disease, Incarceration, Drug Availability All Up at Price Tag of $40 Billion+ Annually Reformers Call for a “New Bottom Line” That Focuses on Reducing the Harms of Both Drug Abuse and the War on Drugs; Offer Concrete Steps to Save Lives The federal government’s latest estimates of the number of Americans who use illegal drugs finds that illegal drug use rates are holding steady overall. While government officials find reason to be optimistic in some areas, they also find reasons to be pessimistic in others. For instance, fewer teens are using marijuana, but more young adults are using cocaine and illegal prescription drugs. The nation’s largest drug policy reform organization, the Drug Policy Alliance, is urging policymakers to look beyond drug use rates. "What matters most is not whether drug use rates go up or down, but whether the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with both drugs and drug prohibition goes up or down,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The war on drugs continues to cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year with nothing to show for it except broken families, overflowing jail cells and increasing drug overdoses.” Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars and incarcerating millions of Americans, experts acknowledge that drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available in every community. Meanwhile, the harms associated with drug abuse – addiction, overdose and the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis – continue to mount. Add to this record of failure the collateral damage of the war on drugs – broken families, racial disparities, wasted tax dollars, and the erosion of civil liberties – and critics claim that it is foolish and irresponsible to claim success. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, if the government were serious about the health and welfare of its citizens, it would immediately take the following steps:
  • Make appropriate drug treatment available to every person who seeks it, including methadone maintenance - which has been proven to be the most effective treatment for heroin dependence.
  • Make sterile syringes readily and legally available through pharmacies and syringe exchange programs in order to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. The United States is alone among advanced industrialized western nations in refusing to provide a penny for such programs, which save lives without increasing drug use.
  • Stop incarcerating citizens for drug possession, repeal federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, and return sentencing discretion to judges.
  • Stop wasting money and scarce law enforcement resources on marijuana, and allow states to tax, regulate, and control marijuana through legal, regulated markets if they choose. This would eliminate unregulated, criminal markets; generate tax revenue; make better use of scarce law enforcement resources; and allow state policymakers to regulate marijuana’s potency, establish age controls, and control marijuana’s use and availability. “The government’s current approach to drugs, with its drug free rhetoric and over-reliance on punitive, criminal justice policies costs billions more each year yet delivers less and less,” said Piper. “It’s time for a new bottom line in drug policy, one that focuses on reducing the harms associated with both drug abuse and the war on drugs.” ###
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