After three decades of waging the â€œwar on drugs,â€? the debate over interdiction strategy continues in venues ranging from Congress to movie theaters playing films such as Traffic. While experts draw sharp distinctions between those who consider drug use to be a crime and those who consider it to be a disease, the public is inclined to see merit in both points of view.
Americans certainly take the issue seriously. Some 63 percent say drug abuse is a â€œserious problemâ€? for the country, and in a Pew survey conducted in February 2001, 27 percent said it's a â€œcrisis.â€? An August 2000 Gallup survey found that 22 percent of Americans said drug abuse had caused problems in their family.
People in the lower-income category and those with less education are more likely to want the government's â€œhighest priorityâ€? to be fighting drugs. According to a January 2001 Washington Post survey, 38 percent of people making less than $30,000 and 40 percent of those with a high school diploma or less think anti-drug efforts should top the list. That's compared with 18 percent of those making more than $75,000, and 20 percent of college graduates who feel the same way.
Setting priorities is one thing; choosing solutions is another. As with societal problems such as crime and welfare reform, the public would mix conservative and liberal approaches to drug abuse. The February Pew survey found 79 percent of Americans said blocking illegal importation would be â€œveryâ€? or â€œsomewhat effectiveâ€? in controlling drugs â€” which is what the same percentage said of providing drug treatment programs. However, when Pew researchers asked which approach would be most effective, 48 percent said interdiction, compared with 10 percent for treatment.
Founded by the social scientist Daniel Yankelovich and former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, Public Agenda is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit, public opinion and policy research organization based in New York. Visit its Web site at www.publicagenda.org.