Study Recommends Treatment, Not Jail, for Drug Abusers

By Gabriel, Dan | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 30, 2001 | Go to article overview

Study Recommends Treatment, Not Jail, for Drug Abusers


Gabriel, Dan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The costs of drug, alcohol and cigarette abuse in the United States totaled $81.3 billion in 1998, but not nearly enough of that amount went toward prevention and treatment, according to a report released yesterday.

The three-year study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, titled "Shoveling Up: The Impact of Substance Abuse on State Budgets," calls for "a revolution in thinking" about substance abuse policy in America.

Specifically, that means eliminating mandatory prison sentences for drug users, increasing alcohol and tobacco taxes, tightening enforcement of laws against those who sell alcohol and tobacco to minors, and stepping up efforts to treat prisoners with substance abuse problems in order to prevent drug-related crimes upon their release.

Joseph A. Califano Jr., CASA president and former secretary of health, education and welfare, said the study's results show the clear need for a shift in focus toward prevention and treatment.

Substance abuse is "a disease - a chronic, relapsing one, that, untreated, has nasty and costly social consequences: illness, disability, death, learning disabilities, poor school performance, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and crime - to name a few," Mr. Califano said.

"Our fear of these consequences often leads us to respond with tough sanctions. It is of course important to hold individuals accountable for their conduct. But the first line of defense is prevention, and we can do a much better job," Mr. Califano said.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police organization in the country, agreed that money needs to be spent on prevention - but not, he says, at the "expense of good old-fashioned law enforcement." "In an ideal world, we could prevent drug use among our children and put an end to wasted lives with preventive programs alone. But until that day comes, we have to realize that those who consign themselves to illegal activity will be brought to justice," Mr. Pasco said.

"For this group to suggest that our priorities are wrong comes as disheartening news to the hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens in this country who find themselves prisoners in their own homes in the inner city as a result of neighborhood drug trade and drug users," Mr. …

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