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RAND Scholars Examine Clinton Strategy, Advocate Harm Reduction


October 1995

In an article published in the American Journal of Public Health, RAND Drug Policy Research Center researchers Peter Reuter, PhD and Jonathan Caulkins, PhD find that the goals of the National Drug Control Policy do not serve to decrease drug use or reduce harm and recommend shifting emphasis toward harm-reduction activities (Peter Reuter, PhD and Jonathan P. Caulkins, PhD, "Redefining the Goals of National Drug Policy: Recommendations from a Working Group," American Journal of Public Health, August 1995, p. 1059).

The article will be reprinted in two installments in NewsBriefs.

It discusses the history of drug control goals and policies, finding a concentration on reducing use of drugs through law enforcement. While overall use has fallen, law enforcement has been unable to control the number of heavy drug users. As a result, the problems associated with drug use (medical costs, incarcerations, etc.) have either remained constant or have increased.

Further, Reuter and Caulkins write that use reduction does nothing to address the differences in use patterns among different drugs and the harms associated with the illegal marketing of drugs.

The authors recommend adoption of a new priority in the fight against drugs: if policies reduce overall harm, they should be implemented. Key to such a strategy would be considering alcohol and tobacco use in discussions about how to deal with drug use. The authors also mention that public education through government-sponsored programs and through medical professionals can be effective in reducing harm. Finally, the authors recommend greater emphasis on treatment and prevention, with those programs receiving funding from health care and education appropriations instead of law enforcement budgets.