TIME FOR A NEW WAR PLAN | Behavioral Healthcare Executive Skip to content Skip to navigation


July 1, 2007
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For my entire life, America has been at war: not a military conflict, but rather a social struggle—the war on drugs. Our country has spent billions and billions on law enforcement, prisons, border control, and even training foreign militaries, all in the effort to stop drug abuse and addiction in this country. Since President Nixon declared drugs public enemy number one in 1971, we've learned a lot about drug abuse and addiction, and the treatment community has evolved too. In fact, NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.

Yet after four decades of being at war (at least “officially”) with drugs, I don't see a decisive victory in sight. We've been trying the law enforcement/punishment route for so long, and the results have been so miserable, that it clearly is time to regroup—not retreat—and rethink our strategy. While the justice system certainly has a role to play, a new war plan should involve a greater emphasis on treatment.

Armed with the understanding that addiction is a disease, our country now has a better option for tackling this medical problem. People should not be incarcerated for medical conditions, and possessing a controlled substance should not necessarily entail prison time, but rather be an opportunity for behavioral health intervention.

Of course, not everyone wants to be drug free, and for some people their addiction is just too strong for them to break at a given time in their lives. That's why some have promoted harm reduction—public health policies designed to lessen the impact of drugs on communities (e.g., needle exchange programs). We present two views on harm reduction in this issue of Behavioral Healthcare. I know harm reduction is a sensitive topic, and I took great care in soliciting the articles on pages 43 and 45. I look forward to hearing your views as well.

For people affected by the disease of addiction, abstinence surely should be the ultimate goal. But I think society also can do a lot of good by helping those who are having trouble staying clean and sober (or aren't ready to commit to it). Although professionals surely will disagree on what role (if any) harm reduction policies should have, I think most would agree that the war on drugs needs a new battle strategy.

P.S. I mentioned in my introduction that NAADAC turns 35 this year. You can read more about this milestone in the July/August issue of Behavioral Healthcare's sister publication, Addiction Professional. If you are not a subscriber, stay tuned to http://www.addictionpro.com.