Expert Links Drug Crackdown to AIDS

Adrian YH Ow

ALAN I. LESHNER, the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, speaks at the Institute of Politics yesterday.

The Bush administration’s support for a crackdown on heroin production in Afghanistan may spark a rise in AIDS throughout central Asia, a drug policy expert told an Institute of Politics forum last night.

Sanho Tree, of the Institute for Policy Studies—a Washington-based think-tank—warned that many addicts in countries surrounding Afghanistan have become dependent on pure heroin, the only type which can be smoked. But if U.S. anti-drug policies reduce the amount of pure heroin available, addicts will be forced to use impure heroin, which requires injection, Tree said.

“There is not a very large supply of clean needles in that area of the world,” Tree said.

According to Tree, the global drug trade “functions on Darwinian principles,” and the U.S.-led war on drugs has led to the survival of the most effective traffickers and dealers.

“When we escalate the drug war, the people we tend to catch are the people who are dumb enough to get caught—no offense to anyone who has been busted,” said Tree, eliciting laughter from the audience of nearly 100 at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum.

Tree, a former military historian, assailed the “war paradigm” that dominates U.S. drug policy.

“Wars are about applying brute force to induce capitulation from rational state-actors. We’ve been using this force against plants. Plants are not rational actors,” Tree said.

The panel discussion featured two other drug policy experts, each of whom addressed a different topic.

Alan I. Leshner, the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes the prestigious journal Science, said that prisoners should receive mandatory, science-based drug treatment.

“Holding hands and singing kumbaya doesn’t make science-based treatment,” Leshner said. “The truth is, coercion works.”

Leshner bombarded audience members with data on drug treatment in a 12-minute slide show in which he illustrated that addicts benefited from therapy whether or not they consented.

Lorraine D. Siggins, the chief psychiatrist at Yale University Health Services, joined Tree and Leshner on the panel and spoke about the remarkable recent increase in mental health cases at universities.

“As mental health care has been less stigmatized, more students are coming in and getting the sort of treatment that they would not have sought 10 years ago,” Siggins said.

“People with bipolar disorders are now being properly treated and are marrying and having families,” Siggins said. “But their children may carry more vulnerabilities to a variety of mental illnesses. The college age range, 17 to 24, is the time—nationally and internationally—where major mental illness expresses itself.”

As that generation of children reaches college age, university health services are deluged with mental health cases.

The panel was held in memory of Norman E. Zinberg, a longtime professor of psychiatry at Harvard.

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