I recently had the pleasure of discussing drug issues with Mr. Bill Manville.  Bill is a former Village Voice columnist, editor for Helen Gurley Brown’s Cosmo, author of six books, and columnist for the New York Daily News. In addition to his column, he teaches writing at Temple University, in Philadelphia,

Bill’s most recent books are  Saloon Society: A Diary of a Year Beyond Aspirin,  and Cool Hip and Sober, both published to great reviews on Amazon and elsewhere.   Bill used our discussion for his column Additions and Answers.  It is reprinted below.


Bill Manville

Question: “Bill, why are alcoholics sent to medical rehabs but addicts treated as criminals? ”

Question: “Ralph Nader says smoking kills over 400,000 Americans every year, hard drugs maybe 8000. Isn’t the War on Drugs a wasteful mismanagement of resources – shouldn’t addiction be treated as a health problem, like alcoholism and/or tobacco?”

Answer: Mismanagement indeed! Readers who remember my column a few weeks ago in which I pointed out that locking an addict up for a year costs more than sending him to Princeton or Stanford will know why I say that. I’ve since learned of a very knowledgeable organization which feels the same way– Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (leap.cc), a group of law enforcement officials who want to end the war on drugs. Getting in touch with them, I spoke to Captain Howard Rahtz (Ret.), a police officer for 18 years and former executive director of the Alcoholism Council. “It seems to me,” I said to him, “that using cops and prosecutors against drug users is the stupidest, most expensive way to deal with addiction. First of all, is there any evidence it works?”

Captain Rahtz: We’ve been fighting the war on drugs for more than forty years now and yet drugs today are more available and more powerful than ever. Addiction rates remain the same. The criminal justice system has been ineffective at fighting drug problems and has in fact, made drug use more dangerous.
Bill: Isn’t another, not-very-often-mentioned danger that as long as any substance is illegal, users have no idea what they’re getting?
Captain Rahtz: They might be shooting up drain cleaner for all they know, and some do. They also don’t know the potency of what they’re getting and this has been a major factor in the skyrocketing number of overdose deaths.
Bill: I was never a doper but in my drinking days I knew plenty who were, including one or two GFs. In order to buy drugs, they had to do business with some very scary people–street transactions that often led to assault, rape, robbery and homicide.
Captain Rahtz: The very illegality of drugs inflates their price and users turn to crime to support their addiction. When things go wrong, as they inevitably do, fear of being arrested keeps addicts and family members from seeking help. Effective programs like needle exchange and provision of overdose reversal drugs struggle for community support from politicians not wanting to appear “soft on drugs.”
Bill: Policies like these endanger peoples’ lives to do what?

Captain Rahtz: To make a political statement about a war on drugs we all know has failed. We can be more effective in dealing with the drug problems in our communities if we acknowledge the failure of the current approach and change our strategy. We need to go with harm reduction programs that we know work.
Bill: Ultimately leading to legalization and regulation?

Captain Rahtz: Let’s allow the community and government officials, not the drug cartels, be the ones in charge of controlling the market.

Bill: PS: For more about Captain Rahtz, see: howardrahtz.com