Physicians Fight Over Tobacco, Alcohol Abuse!

Physicians Fight Over Tobacco, Alcohol Abuse!
Posted by FoM on June 16, 1999 at 17:41:42 PT
By Steven K. Paulson
ASPEN, Colo. Some of the nation's leading physicians are sharply divided over whether to include alcohol and tobacco in their war on drugs. They remain unsure whether Congress will challenge two of the biggest lobbies in Washington.
Members of the Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy also had mixed views about the legalization of medicinal marijuana, needle exchanges and sentencing for drug crimes as they wrapped up a two-day conference at the Aspen Institute this week.Nationwide, doctors are faced with tough political choices about controversial medical issues. Some want to focus on battling illegal drugs, while others want to add alcohol, tobacco and even coffee to the war on addictive substances, said Dr. Lonnie Bristow, group vice chairman.Bristow, a former American Medical Association president, said it makes no sense for doctors to waste time on political battles they cannot win."There are people who can't see the difference between winning the battle and winning the war," he said."We treat substance abuse the same, whether the drugs are legal or illegal. But when it comes to policy issues, you have to treat them differently. There are legal drugs and there are illegal drugs."Dr. June Osborn, the group's chairwoman, maintained that bringing the alcohol lobby "down on our heads makes little sense. We have big trouble just looking at substance abuse."But others in the influential group contend that it makes no sense to single out illegal drugs and ignore abuse of tobacco and alcohol.Dr. David Smith, who runs the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics in San Francisco, said special interests and their political contributions should be attacked directly because their strength now is blocking the anti-drug effort."That's special interest bribery," Smith said. "There's so much special interest money from the alcohol and tobacco industry we should eliminate it."The 37-member group, formed in 1997, has a long-standing policy that focused on illegal drugs and wants Congress to require insurance companies to define drug abuse as any other medical illness and provide coverage for treatment.While some group members welcome the open debate on the substance abuse question, others fear that bringing in issues like needle exchanges, medicinal marijuana and drug sentencing only muddies the waters and makes it more difficult to fight illegal drugs."It sends the wrong message, that we're morally supporting" drug use, Dr. Allen Rosenfeld said.
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