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Public Opinion and Health Care
March 18, 1998

The Public and the War on Illicit Drugs

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Mass (Dr Blendon and Mr Young), and the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass (Dr Blendon).

JAMA. 1998;279(11):827-832. doi:10.1001/jama.279.11.827

This article presents what Americans think about the policies subsumed under the label of the "War on Drugs." It is based on an analysis of 47 national surveys conducted between 1978 and 1997. The major results are that most Americans rely on the mass media for information about the scope of the drug abuse problem; Americans do not think that the Wars on Drugs have succeeded, but they do not want to quit on these efforts; weak support exists for increasing funding for drug treatment; support for preventive education has increased during the 1990s; criminal justice responses remain very popular; for many, illicit drug use is a moral rather than a public health issue; the public supports allowing physicians to prescribe marijuana for severe illness, but opposes the general legalization of marijuana and other illicit drugs; and needle exchange programs are supported by a bare majority, but only when they are told that the American Medical Association supports these programs.