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Acad Med. 1995 May;70(5):355-8.

Medicalizing the war on drugs.


Most medical colleges, teaching hospitals, and other health education and treatment institutions are already expanding their horizons to include attention to the public health needs of their communities. But one pressing public health problem--substance abuse--that should be treated as a disease and handled by doctors and nurses is at present entrusted primarily to law enforcement. The author believes that this is the wrong approach: the War on Drugs is not working, and drug laws are inconsistent and illogical. Changes in national drug policies must be changed. The author has called for a national commission to study how all drugs--legal and illegal--should be regulated. He advocates a health-regulatory strategy, sometimes called "medicalization," whereby the government would set up a regime to pull addicts into the public health system and would control the price, distribution, purity, and access to addictive substances, just as it now does with prescription drugs. This would take the profit out of drug trafficking. Addicts would be treated and if necessary maintained under medical auspices. Baltimore began its own version of medicalization in the summer of 1994 with a needle-exchange program, an approach that has elsewhere led to dramatic drops in AIDS infection and drug-related crime. Baltimore also has a mobile van for methadone treatment and is getting help from public and private sources for increased drug treatment and prevention programs. In the medicalization of the War on Drugs, the nation's medical colleges, schools of public health, teaching hospitals, and nursing schools all have roles to play.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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