Doctors Say Answer To Drugs Is Prevention, Not Prison


Former top government health officials and leaders of national medical groups called Wednesday for a shift in government drug abuse policies, with greater emphasis on prevention and medical treatment and less reliance on prisons and police.

In establishing a new national organization - called Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy - to push for greater reliance on health approaches to America’s $100 billion illicit drug problem, the group said current national policy is not only failing to reduce drug abuse, it is failing to control it.

“There are answers in the arena of public health and medicine that are more cost-effective than police and prisons in dealing with this problem,” said David G. Lewis, director of the new group.

Members include David Kessler, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Louis Sullivan, former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services; Lonnie Bristow, past president of the American Medical Association; and the editors of the country’s leading medical journals, the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association. They met in New York Wednesday to establish the organization.

While greater reliance on medical and public health approaches to the drug problem is not a new idea, the 38 founders of Physician Leadership represent a consensus among some of the largest and most influential mainstream medical groups in the country.

And while the Clinton administration has managed to walk a fine line between both approaches to the drug war, Wednesday’s statements could raise the level of the debate between health and criminal justice officials.

“Despite the best intentions of government policymakers and law enforcement officials, the current criminal justice-driven approach is not reducing, let alone controlling, drug abuse in America,” said Bristow in a written statement issued by the new group.


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