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An Alternative to Jail -- A Fresh Approach to the War on Drugs

Maybe we're getting it wrong. Maybe we've missing the bigger picture. Maybe we're missing the real solution. That's the message U.S. Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske wants to send.

After observing the way our European neighbors are addressing drug addiction, Kerlikowske is convinced the United States needs to modify its approach to the "war on drugs." Instead of simply locking up people charged with prescription drug possession and other drug crimes, Kerlikowske, a former police chief believes the country should be focusing its efforts on treatment.

Kerlikowske addressed a throng of reporters last week to speak on the issue, "It's very clear we can't arrest our way out of the problem. The availability of quality treatment and the engagement of the public health sector and primary care physicians in drug issues is very critical."

The director was in Europe gathering information about how other countries are dealing with addiction. Of particular interests were nations such as Portugal, who stopped arresting people for small possession drug crimes and have instead focused on giving those afflicted treatment and counseling.

Experts believe there are approximately 20 million people in the United States who are suffering from addiction and could benefit from treatment. Of those, only 4 million will get the help they need to overcome their addictions.

There is growing support for the expansion of drug courts, which offer repeat drug offenders incentives to get sober by providing treatment as an alternative to prison. Attitudes regarding drug use have changed as well. Addiction is now understood to be a disease and not a moral failing.

Source: www.reuters.com, "U.S. Says Drug Abuse Needs Treatment, Not Just Jail," Kate Kelland 22 May 2012

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