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AZ Public Health Advocates Back Drug Treatment Over Jail

May 25, 2010

PHOENIX - America's "War on Drugs" has cost government over a trillion dollars since it was started 40 years ago, but millions of Americans continue to buy and use illegal drugs. President Obama recently announced a new national policy to treat drug abuse more as a public health issue and less as a crime, a change that's been sought for years by public health advocates.

Arizona Public Health Association board member Jack Beveridge says treatment can succeed in discouraging drug use, where jails have failed.

"We all know that it continues and it's driven by demand. And so if we don't do something to halt the demand or lessen the demand for drugs, I don't myself think all of the enforcement is going to be the answer."

Beveridge says relying mainly on a law enforcement approach hasn't been very effective. Even the current head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, concedes the current strategy hasn't worked.

Beveridge says prevention and treatment programs are far more effective ways to solve the nation's drug problem by actually lessening demand.

"Treatment does work, and there have been a number of studies that have shown that. Now, it takes a while, and it takes an extended period and there's often relapse to go through, but the recovery model is one that has been shown to be very effective."

Beveridge says putting drug users in prison has shown little benefit beyond the immediate effect of detoxification.

"In the prison systems, they've found that drug usage is rampant, and so it's not really an effective approach to the problem."

He says one promising idea involves training primary care doctors to screen for drug abuse during routine medical exams, as a way to identify and treat potential addicts.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ