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For Drugs, a Moral Model

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PRESIDENT BUSH'S declaration of war on drugs shifted the prevailing metaphor in our struggle against drug abuse from the medical to the military model. The medical model defined alcoholism, and by extension drug addiction, as an illness requiring ``treatment.'' As the ``disease'' of drug abuse spread to epidemic proportions, however, the prevailing metaphor - fueled by anger about the social ills that the drug problem spawns - has shifted to war. It's doubtful that such a war can be won, whatever its budget. A recent New York Times headline announced that ``Bush Officials Say War on Drugs in the Nation's Capital Is a Failure.'' Federal officials blame the city of Washington, and the city blames William Bennett, the national drug-policy adviser, for failing to back the program with adequate funds. Thus, the argument will swing between allocating more resources for a war on drugs versus more money for treating the ``illness'' of drug addiction.

To be sure, drug rehabilitation programs are vital, and battles have been won against drug trafficking. Both should be supported, but neither is sufficient. Soon after several battle successes against Colombian drug barons, a new chemical drug called ``ice,'' which creates higher highs and more bizarre post-high behavior, began invading continental US from makeshift laboratories in Hawaii. Even if we succeed in halting the influx of natural drugs, underground laboratories will fill the vacuum with more destructive chemical compounds. The drug war seems to have a parallel to the Vietnam war.

The futility of our efforts against drug abuse reflects in part the inadequacy of our guiding metaphor. We are, as my Italian barber phrased it in one of our chairside chats, a ``nation of moral orphans.'' We lack a moral consensus that abuse of drugs and alcohol not only is bad, but is wrong, and that self-control, discipline, restraint, and temperance are essential virtues that bind the fabric of society. Only a spiritual and moral model can add backbone to the prevailing medical and military models.


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