Forum looks at highs and lows of drug policy

Andrew Donohue

Discussion surrounding national drug policies struck at the vein of debaters at a public forum Monday.
The forum, held at the University Law School, was sponsored by the Open Debate Project and focused on the plan of attack within the country’s war on drugs. About 100 students and community members attended the two-hour conference.
The discussion was led by Ethan Nadelmann, a scholar of drug policy and the international aspects of crime and law enforcement. He is a former faculty member of Princeton University and director of the Lindesmith Center, a drug policy research institute in New York City.
Nadelmann, as he has done for 10 years in print media and on television, stressed the necessity for change in the United States’ current war on drugs. As politicians push for tougher enforcement against drug felons, Nadelmann said the solution is in the other direction.
“I see things getting dramatically and terribly worse,” he said. “We can only move forward when we realize the drug problems are the result of drug prohibition.”
Although he does not advocate legalization, Nadelmann said the solution lies in making prohibition work better: reducing death, disease, crime, suffering and wasted resources.
David E. Lillehaug, U.S. attorney for Minnesota, offered a compromise between existing policies and those proposed by Nadelmann.
“It is possible to be in favor of tougher narcotics enforcement and harm reduction,” Lillehaug said. “I think the two can support each other and we should support the combination.”
Many people at the forum agreed the first step should be curing the addicted, not placing them in already overcrowded prison systems.
“It is important to say, You are not a worthless junkie, you count,'” said Susan Powers, member of Women with a Point, a Twin Cities needle exchange program. “We must keep people safe until they can do something different with their lives.”
Discussion dealing with heroin addiction centered around methadone, a drug that has been accepted as the most effective treatment for heroin addiction. Although the drug is regarded as highly effective, it is still illegal in seven states and scarcely available in many parts of the country.
“I had been using heroin for 38 years and have buried a lot of friends,” said a recovering heroin addict who wished only to be identified as Terry for personal reasons. “Methadone has, without question, saved my life. I can live an honest life; I don’t have to break the law, and I don’t have to go to jail.”
Terry is receiving treatment at one of four methadone clinics in Minnesota.
The forum was the second such conference this year at the University and will be followed by a similar meeting in June.