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August 20, 2005 -- Salt Lake Tribune (UT)

Rocky Calls War On Drugs 'A Disaster'

By Michael Westley

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

The war on drugs has been an "absolute unmitigated failure -- a disaster in this country."

Strong words spoken by Salt Lake City's Mayor Rocky Anderson during a panel discussion Friday night at the Harm Reduction Conference.

In the two hours following Anderson's opening remarks, civic and community leaders from around the country echoed his sentiments, calling for greater outreach, education and prevention for drug abuse.

"We want to prevent, when we can, the abuse of all substances and for those who choose to use, reduce the harm," Anderson said.

The second part of his quote, the notion which, in some form, accepts drug use and looks to minimize its risks, is what the Harm Reduction Conference is all about.

The first annual conference, held at the Salt Lake City Marriott on Friday and today, focuses on methamphetamine, HIV and hepatitis.

Among those on the panel were Dave Purchase, of the North American Syringe Exchange Network, whose civic involvement in Seattle brought about the first needle exchange program in the United States, and Dave Nadalmann, of the Drug Policy Alliance, who advocates more practical approaches to drug reform.

"Most of the information we hear about drugs comes from people who got in trouble with them," Purchase said.

Those who use drugs recreationally and manage healthy and successful lives don't register on the scale of public perception, "and that forms our opinions as well."

Many of the panelists fought to correct misconceptions born in the 20-year campaign against drug abuse. "There is no such thing as a meth baby or a crack baby," said Karen Buchi of the University of Utah. "These are drug-impacted children."

To see pictures of children labeled as meth babies is terribly unfair, she said.

Judge Dennis Fuchs, of Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court, upheld the need for sentencing that allows the time for proper treatment, and Salt Lake City prosecutor Sim Gill said the success of drug treatment depends on users gaining access to immediate, individual attention.

Others on the panel included Judge Arthur Bennett, Patrick Fleming, Deborah Small, Corinne Carey and Steve Jenison.

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