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Neighborhood meeting suggests new approach to 'War on Drugs'

Community advocates, community leaders and police officers gathered in Pittsburgh's Garfield neighborhood on Oct. 18 to assess the government's attempts to eradicate drug use in the U.S. over the past 40 years. Many members of the panel said they felt a more holistic, treatment-based approach would be more effective in the long run, compared with the mass incarceration strategy used by federal, state and local law enforcement.

The panelists at the discussion included several people who have studied drug addiction or worked with addicts. One panelist compared the so-called "War on Drugs" to the Prohibition Era, when the federal government tried to ban alcohol. The ban was part of the U.S. Constitution from 1920 until 1933, when it was repealed by an amendment. Many historians note that Prohibition was a failure. Drinking simply went underground, occupying much of the government's time and resources, and doing little to reduce alcoholism.

"The solution became worse than the disease," the panelist, the founder of the Center for Spirituality in Twelve Step Recovery, said. He said that focusing efforts on treating drug addiction, rather than sending addicts to prison, would do more to improve society.

Even some law enforcement officials are losing faith in the incarceration approach. Among the panelists was a Pittsburgh Police commander, who said he has seen little progress in combating drug abuse. "I think sometimes it's worse now than it was back then," he said, referring to the 1970s, when the War on Drugs began.

The panel also included a professor from Carnegie Mellon University who provided attendees a brief historical overview of the War on Drugs, which began in 1971 during the Nixon administration.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "'War on drugs' focus sparks varied opinions," Tony LaRussa, Oct. 18, 2011

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