Former Health Secretary Advocates Drug Treatment Over Incarceration
While the recent drug relapses of actor Robert Downey Jr. and professional baseball player Darryl Strawberry have helped to polarize America's drug debate between those who favor legalization and those advocating strict punishment, Joseph Califano writes in a Washington Post op-ed that "[b]oth extremes are policies of despair that ignore the success of efforts to date and misread the lessons these tragic cases offer." Califano, the secretary of health, education and welfare from 1977 to 1979 and current president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, says that one of the lessons to be learned from Downey's and Strawberry's "tragic" experiences is the "need for research to discover how better to motivate addicts to enter treatment, stay there and continue in aftercare." While President Bush's proposed 16% funding increase for the National Institute on Drug Abuse and proposed 11% increase for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism are "steps in the right direction," Califano says that these measures "fall far short of the kind of commitment this nation would make if we recognized that we are dealing with the country's number one disease and stopped stigmatizing addicts as modern-day lepers." Dismissing the potential legalization of drugs as being "especially destructive to our children" and noting that sending addicts to prison or releasing them without providing treatment "ensures their return to crime and incarceration," Califano advocates coerced treatment. Pointing to the commonly held belief among prosecutors that coerced treatment is more effective than voluntary treatment, Califano concludes, "[T]he tragedy of Downey and Strawberry is not so much that they have been criminally charged; it is that their special status and access to high-powered lawyers denied them the motivation to accept appropriate treatment for a sufficiently long time (at least a year) to get their act together" (Califano, Washington Post, 5/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.