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Drawing on scores of interviews with federal officials charged with directing the drug war and on years of on-the-street reporting, Massing offers a fresh new way of looking at the drug problem. The heart of that problem lies not with recreational users of marijuana, as many politicians and journalists maintain, but with hard-core users of heroin, crack, and cocaine. Numbering about three million, these addicts are concentrated in the nation's inner cities and account for most of the demand for drugs and most of the crime associated with their use.
Given the number of addicts and the tenacity of their habit, putting them in jail is not an affordable or effective longterm solution. And, given the tendency of addicts to engage in destructive behavior, legalization would simply encourage more of it. A far more effective policy, Massing argues, would be to recognize that drug use is a public health problem, and to use the government's resources to create a national network of clinics offering addicts treatment on demand.
Massing shows that drug treatment works by describing the success that street workers have had in reaching out to addicts in Spanish Harlem and placing them in the few treatment programs now available. Further evidence that treatment can reduce the demand for drugs comes from the Nixon years. Confronted with a raging heroin epidemic in the early 1970s, President Nixon responded by allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to set up a nationwide network of methadone clinics and other drugtreatment facilities. The program was a striking success, and, if revived today, it could go a long way toward reducing the rate of drug-related crime in the United States. Among Massing's findings: Even as Nancy Reagan was traveling around the country urging people to "just say no" to drugs, her husband was sharply cutting the federal drug-treatment budget. When the crack epidemic hit in the mid-1980s, those treatment facilities that remained were completely overwhelmed, and many addicts who wanted help were forced back onto the street. The Reagan Administration's policies made the crack epidemic far worse than it need have been. The greatest influence on drug policy in the last twenty years has been the "parent movement," a little-known network of strong-willed mothers and fathers that sprang up in suburbs across the country in the late 1970s. Panicked over their kids' use of marijuana, these parents pioneered such concepts as zero tolerance and a drug-free America, while at the same time stymieing all efforts to help innercity addicts. The only federal official in recent years to make a genuine bid to revive the Nixon model and treat addicts in a humane fashion was Lee Brown, the former New York City police chief who became President Clinton's first drug czar. But Clinton, despite promises to support Brown, eventually abandoned him out of fear that he would look soft on crime. Clinton's drug policy is no less hawkish than that of his Republican predecessors, and every bit as ineffective.
Instead of relying on foreign governments to hunt down drug lords, or on building more prisons to warehouse addicts-- approaches that are expensive, wasteful, and ineffective-- we should restore our once and only successful program of treatment for hard-core addicts. It's our only hope for winning the war against drugs.
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