Narcotics Addiction: Punishment or Treatment

July 18, 1962

Report Outline
Review of Approaches to Drug Problem
Treatment Methods and New Proposals
Search for Effective Cure of Addiction

Review of Approaches to Drug Problem

By striking down a California statute which made drug addiction itself—as distinct from sale or possession of narcotic drugs—a crime punishable by imprisonment, the Supreme Court on June 25 gave indirect support to pleas for wider recognition of the fact that victims of the drug habit are physically and in most cases mentally ill. For decades there has been a tug of war between persons who emphasize the medical approach to the drug-problem and those who stress the criminal approach and the harsh mandatory penalties now imposed on all violators of the narcotics laws. Actually, both approaches have been used in recent years. Yet the problem remains unsolved. A White House conference on the question, to be held late this summer, is expected to explore new ways of combining the two prongs of the attack in the hope of producing more effective results.

Support is growing for procedures that will make sharper distinction between the hardened profiteer in the illicit drug market and the drug user. The former is one of the most despised of criminal offenders; all agree that he deserves severe punishment. The addict, on the other hand, awakens sympathy among thoughtful people; they think he should be helped to break a vicious habit. But difficulty arises when the same individual is both drug user and drug seller.

Impending White House Narcotics Conference

Calling of the White House Conference appears to be a step toward reconsideration of national policy on drug addiction. President Kennedy said on May 29 that the conference would seek to bring out the true facts about addiction and recommend the courses of action best calculated to curb it. He defined the chief problem areas as (1) law enforcement, (2) treatment of addicts, and (3) assessment of the nature and extent of addiction.

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