January 31 2014
This commentary appeared in The Orange County Register on January 29, 2014.
Now that Colorado, Washington, and, most recently, Uruguay have legalized marijuana, many believe changes are needed in the U.S. “War on Drugs” — with good reason. Policymakers fear that legalized marijuana could lead to increased use.
Already, one-in-three high school seniors reports using marijuana in the last year and one-in-five reports using other illegal drugs. While alcohol is less mentioned as a target in the “War on Drugs,” it is alone responsible for the death of about 5,000 youth under age 21 each year and for $62 billion in annual costs because of delinquency and crime, according to one study. Outside the numbers, no one feels the impact of drug and alcohol use more than families in hospital waiting rooms, police stations, and morgues.
Yet, as familiar as Americans are with the problems of youth drug and alcohol abuse, we are not identifying all the potential solutions. While a growing chorus of observers criticizes what they see as an overemphasis in U.S. policy on enforcement and interdiction and scant resources devoted to what they see as the real answer — treatment — the exclusive focus on both these proposed approaches often ignores a key piece of the puzzle: prevention.