News Release

Alternatives to Federal Anti-Drug Policies


WASHINGTON — With a $195 million federal anti-drug ad campaign now underway, some experts on drug policies and the law are questioning the effectiveness of the latest efforts to curb drug use.

Among those available for comment are:

Program Administrator for the Substance Abuse Network of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, Colbert said: “Before the federal government spends the money, they ought to ask people who are on the front lines how they should spend that kind of money. Suppose people see these ads and pick up the phone to call for some help. Where are they going to get it? In the District of Columbia there’s a war among providers to try to get the help they need for their clients because resources are so scarce. So some of that money could go toward drug prevention, intervention and treatment right here in the nation’s capital.”

President of the National Lawyers Guild and trial consultant with the National Jury Project, Koonan said of the high-dollar ad campaign: “That’s really criminal. Until we deal with an environment that does not provide a place for [young people with drug problems] to feel like they belong, does not provide an educational system that seems relevant to them and does not provide jobs that offer hope for advancement in the future, they’re left hanging out with friends and getting high. There’s a lot of insecurity and a sense of lack of mores and consistency in society that make people feel like they belong to something. You can’t give people a sense of belonging to something through advertisements.”

An assistant professor at American University and author of Pipe Dream Blues: Racism and the War on Drugs, Lusane said: “Crime and welfare policies have exacerbated the situation with drugs. People are going to make choices to survive. Many of the people eliminated from the welfare lines have not found employment, so the conditions are set for people to become involved in the illegal underground economy and for substance abuse. The most recent decision of the administration not to fund needle exchange will have a negative effect on drug usage as well as AIDS. The needle exchange programs work with users and help bring them into drug treatment programs. The administration recognized this, but still caved in to the conservatives on the Hill who consider needle exchange to be a moral problem.”

The author of Scapegoat Generation: America’s War on Adolescents, Males said: “It’s time to recognize that drug abuse was going down when the drug war started and it’s gone up since. This is what’s been tried for 10 years. It’s politicians spending money for self-aggrandizement. The money goes to media outlets who have faithfully reported the issue the way officials want it. The drug war is a national disaster… There is a desperate need to confront the explosion of drug use among people in the 30-to-50 age range. This popular, emotional attack on kids ignores the serious parental drug problem that we have and the need for family programs. What we need to do is focus on kids being raised by addicted parents.”

Mauer, assistant director of The Sentencing Project, said: “There are real questions about whether this ad campaign is based on the best research and might not be counterproductive. This administration and Congress are doing exactly what their predecessors did — waging the war on drugs primarily with law enforcement, which is after the damage is done, rather than dealing with the problem through prevention and treatment programs. Mandatory minimum sentences have just bloated the prison system with low-level drug offenders. We’ve poured billions into building prison cells and that’s money that’s not available for treatment. Every dollar you invest in treatment is far more effective than building prison cells. Also, remember that alcohol and tobacco remain more of a health problem for both juveniles and adults. To ignore alcohol seems to be a misguided approach.”

Past chair of the Jail and Prison Health Committee of the American Public Health Association and a correctional medical expert, Weinstein said: “It’s more than a waste of money, because it gives a completely inaccurate view of the cause and cure of drug-related behaviors. A campaign like they have done in the past adds to the problem by focusing on individual behavior choices as the key element in the drug use problem in the U.S. It is not. The key part of the puzzle is that we have taken a public health problem and turned it into a problem of detention and punishment. Overlying that is the kind of social despair and alienation that drives people to the use of drugs.” Weinstein added: “But this is a drug-using society, so that only some drugs are criminalized, and only in some communities. An old saw in the public health community is, if you’re white and a working person and you have a cocaine habit, your employer’s insurance pays for an inpatient rehab facility. If you’re poor, black and involved in petty drug sales, you go to prison.”

For more information, contact Theresa Caldwell or Sam Husseini at the Institute for Public Accuracy, (202) 347-0020.