When is alcohol just another drug? Some thoughts on research and policy.
AIM: To reflect on the divergence and overlap between alcohol and illicit drugs with respect to both current policies and policy research. RESULTS: For demand reduction, there is considerable overlap in programs and services for prevention and even more clearly for treatment. For supply controls there is mostly divergence, reflecting the difference in legal status. Research generally follows the same pattern. However, a cross-cutting research agenda on the supply side has merit. CONCLUSION: Even in a prohibition regime, law-enforcement agencies have considerable discretion. A systematic, pragmatic, 'evidence-based' use of that discretion to reduce harm is possible. It can be accomplished only by a continuing program of policy research that measures the harms of drug use and drug enforcement, assesses the effects of current policies on both these sources of social cost and explores alternative strategies. There is a similarly important project for alcohol and tobacco control policy. The goal for research on alcohol and tobacco is to document the extent to which supply controls can be effective in reducing harm; the additional goal for illicit drugs is to document just how much the current ideologically driven approach is costing the public.
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