Posted by FoM on December 01, 2000 at 14:17:24 PT
By Maia Szalavitz
Source: NewsWatch
Like Darryl Strawberry before him, actor Robert Downey, Jr. is testing the limits of America's tolerance for relapse to addiction. But this time - and in the aftermath of the success of a ballot initiative to give addicts several chances at treatment before jail sentences can be invoked in California– tolerance may be beginning to trump moralizing, amd may well signal a readiness for a real debate on drug policy.
Voters may have been ambivalent about their presidential choices this year, but they weren't indecisive about the failure of the war on drugs. Five of seven initiatives to reform drug laws passed. Two new states (Nevada and Colorado) joined the six states and the District of Columbia which have already voted to legalize of the medical use of marijuana; two(Oregon and Utah) supported restrictions on police powers to seize property linked to drug crimes. The two propositions that failed (Alaska and Massachusetts) included clemency for drug dealers, which the public wasn't prepared to accept.But the California initiative, which passed 61-39 percent despite opposition from prosecutors, judges, prison guards and almost all politicians, is probably the most important and belatedly, the media seems to be picking up on thisc hange in climate.After his relapse this spring, Darryl Strawberry was called "pathetic," "maddening" and "despicable" by baseball commentator Tim McCarver. A Washington Post column by Richard Cohen remarked on the level of outrage by fans and commentators and concluded that baseball had failed him by not forcing him into long-term lockdown treatment.A 1997 editorial in the Los Angeles Times responded to a judge sentencing Downey to prison time for an earlier relapse by saying, "Jail time was the option that should have been taken months ago as it surely would have been for any ordinary citizen... What kind of message is sent when youths who idolize stars see that drug arrests do not even interfere with movie careers?" An article that paper ran on his 1997 arrest bore the headline "Saved By The Judge."Downey’s latest relapse, however, seems to have occurred in a climate of greater sympathy– one that was perhaps presaged by the comments of drug reform financier George Soros' spokesman and advocate Ethan Nadelmann in a San Francisco Chronicle column about Strawberry (3/26/00). Nadelmann posed a question which seems to have struck voters this fall: "What is the point of punishment? Almost everything we've learned about drug use and addiction is that a good job and a supportive environment are crucial in enabling people to say no to drugs, or at least to keep their drug use under control... Why don't they leave the guy alone?"In a Washington Post article (11/28/00), Sharon Waxman quotes writer/director James Toback expressing a similar thought about Downey, "He's a sweet guy who never did harm to anyone except himself. He's been doing drugs for 20 years and functioning for 20 years and in those 20 years there have been hundreds of people who have been getting high constantly and behaved very destructively and have not been arrested. Robert's real problem is he gets caught."The coverage of these relapses reflects a set of contradictory ideas that hasn't yet gelled into coherent arguments. The media is still bound by a set of stereotypes through which it frames drug problems but chronic relapsers like Downey and Strawberry explode them by illuminating their flaws.Reporters might wish to start questioning the following assumptions if they want to make sense of this issue. First, almost every news story about drugs assumes that one addict can speak for all addicts, even for all casual drug users. When Downey, Jr. was freed in August, he was presumed to represent the addict's prison experience when he told Details, "I wouldn't wish my experience on an enemy. But there was value in it." But few ask: "if that's the case, why did her relapse?" And, "if prison is valuable, why is it such a revolving door for addicts?"Almost all of the coverage of the treatment ballot initiative in California, Proposition 36, contained similar quotes from addicts who said that the measure would increase drug use by freeing them from an immediate incarceration threat. Only after editorializing based on these positions and the self-interested opposition from prison guards and prosecutors did the California press learn that voters saw the issue quite differently. Not one article contained evidence that a reporter had asked Prop. 36opponents– many of whom treat both alcoholics and addicts and say they both have the same disease of addiction– why they need force for one group, but not the other.Futher, in no area is one considered an expert on a disease, and the behavior of fellow sufferers, simply because one has fallen victim to it. This privileging of addicts as experts affects policies by perpetuating an ideology about addiction taught to addicts in treatment which bears little relation to what recent research has discovered. An addict whose only education is his addiction and recovery treatment is no more an expert on his illness than a heart transplant patient is on his. What is true for one is not necessarily true for all– and while the addict's perspective is important to help humanize the issue, unless it is informed by research, it cannot be considered a generalizeable point of view. The condition of drug addiction is too diverse.Furthermore, the public has clearly decided that jail doesn't deter users– and is hugely expensive to boot. Send them to treatment instead, they say. But the media doesn't ask: if addiction is a disease as the treatment providers claim, why is jail and coercion in the mix at all?To have a sane argument about drug policy, the media needs to consider the Robert Downey, Jr.'s and Darryl Strawberry's of the world who repeatedly fail treatment, perhaps because they simply aren't ready to stop using. The treatment providers have few answers for them other than keep forcing them back into care, even when it clearly isn't helping.Should we treat drug addicts as we treat alcoholics and smokers? Should we lock them up even though it doesn't deter them or others? The debate won't progress without clear thinking and a decision to ruthlessly question conventional wisdom– something that Californians seem to have begun to do. The media needs to catch up.Maia Szalavitz is a contributing editor to NewsWatch.  Source: News Watch (US Web)Author: Maia SzalavitzPublished: January 12, 2001Copyright: 2000 www.NewsWatch.orgContact: editor newswatch.orgWebsite: Articles:Robert Downey's Problem--and Ours Rally To Robert Downey Jr's Side Robert Downey Jr. Faces More Drug Charges Says Strawberry Needs Help, Not Jail
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Comment #2 posted by Alaric on December 02, 2000 at 15:35:14 PT
Kary Mullis
Let's not forget about Kary Mullis either. is the fellow who holds a Nobel prize in chemistry for invention of the polymearase chain reaction, the basis for mo0st of our modern biotechnology industry, the process that made possible this year's completion of the sequencing of the human genome. He has also been a proponent of LSD. He has taken LSD. if he had been caught in posession of LSD by a policeman, then he would very well have been languishing in a prison cell instead of revolutionizing medicine and biology. Tell me we would be better off.
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Comment #1 posted by Alaric on December 02, 2000 at 14:36:11 PT
Downey in prison.
When I saw the movie "Chaplin" I was absolutely astounded at this man's incredible talent. If you have not seen this movie, please rent it. Then tell me this man would be better off in prison. I don't give a damn if he uses drugs. I want to see more of him on-screen. Evidently, Strawberry has a similar draw for baseball aficianados. Tell me that You would be better off with him in prison. Had Carl Sagan been less circumspect or the victim of happenstance, then instead of his many fascinating books and the Cosmos TV series, we would have been treated to the spectacle of this brilliant man demoralized, beaten and whimpering before some bigoted judge. Tell me that your kid would have been better off with Sagan in prison. I have said it before: It's an evil, ignorant war against civilization.
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