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William Raspberry: Treat Drug Abuse, Alcohol Abuse the Same


April 1993

Although drunk drivers are demonstrably more harmful to society than users of illicit drugs, drunk drivers are treated largely as people with a problem who need help while illicit drug users are treated as criminals deserving of prison (William Raspberry, "Selective Punishment," Washington Post, 3/22/93, A19).

"Perhaps the biggest factor in our drug/alcohol dichotomy is simply this," writes Raspberry. "We (by which I include judges, legislators, and journalists) are likely to have some sympathy with a drunk driver because we can easily imagine ourselves having a drink too many and getting in trouble ...

"We cannot, however, imagine ourselves snorting coke, or smoking crack or shooting heroin. As a result, it's easy for us to view the people who do these things as reprobates worthy of serious -- perhaps mandatory -- penalty.

"But serious penalty means building more prison cells, even at the cost of reduced funding for education and even though the people we imprison are likely to be released to the same circumstances that led to their drug abuse in the first place.

"It's time to try another way. Not mollycoddling the violence-prone, neighborhood-wrecking drug dealers but by treating drug abusers pretty much the way we treat middle-class alcohol abusers: less as criminals and more as people with a problem that demands education and medical attention."