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Minnesota Pols Lead Way to New Drug-War Thinking

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Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) are trying to get the federal government to emphasize addiction treatment and prevention over law enforcement and interdiction in the nation's drug war.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported March 6 that the tide seems to be shifting Wellstone and Ramstad's way. “There's more public focus, there's more visibility, there's more education, there's a little less stereotyping than there used to be, so that makes it a better climate.” Wellstone said.

The Minnesota lawmakers have led calls for parity coverage of addiction treatment. But the proposal has drawn fire from insurers, who say treatment is expensive, outcomes uncertain, and relapse common. “My toughest sell is the Republican House leadership, no question about it,” said Ramstad.

Ramstad recently met with President George Bush, whose own battles with alcohol abuse have been well-documented, to discuss treatment. “He did not commit to supporting any legislation, I must make that clear,” said Ramstad. But, he said, “His own personal experiences with alcohol abuse have made him sensitive to the problem … there's nothing like personal experience with addiction to become a believer in treatment and recovery.”

The movie “Traffic” has helped raise awareness about possible new approaches to the drug war, and Ramstad said the political sentiment could be shifting in favor of demand reduction. “We got lip service from President Clinton,” he said. “Every time it was time to move the [parity] bill, we couldn't get a letter of support from the administration. So we've just decided to wait for the new administration.”

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