Treating Drug Abuse as a Disease, Not a Crime

A Pew Research study today says jail is not the place for non-violent drug users.

In a survey released today by the Pew Research Center, 87 percent of people characterized drug abuse is either a "crisis" or a "serious problem" in the U.S. That number hasn't changed much in nearly twenty years.

What has changed is how Americans are framing the problem, and how they want to approach it. Two thirds of respondents said that moving away from mandatory prison terms for non-violent drug crimes is a good idea. In 2001 fewer than half of Americans felt that way.

The survey asked 1,821 Americans, "In dealing with drug policy, should government focus more on providing treatment for people who use illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine, or do you think it should focus more on prosecuting people who use these types of drugs?" They answered:

Gray segment represents 7 percent undecided. (Pew Research Center)

This reflects a growing understanding of drug abuse as a public health issue, and the data suggests that the majority of Americans think we should be dealing with it as a disease that needs treatment, rather than prosecuting it as a crime.

The complete report, America's New Drug Policy Landscape, is available here.

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Julie Beck is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Health Channel.

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