Have we reached a humane alternative to the war on drugs?

Can treating addiction as a disease work better than treating it as a vice?

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  • The War on Drugs has taken fifty years of America's time, and an unfathomable amount of our blood and treasure.
  • A new method for dealing with drug abuse, treating it as a disease rather than a moral failure, is being tried.
  • Studies suggest this is a better way to deal with the problem, and programs using this view are seeing success.

The war on drugs is nearly 50 years old. In that time, countless billions of dollars have been spent on it, unnumbered millions have been incarcerated because of it, and thousands upon thousands of lives have been taken in the places were the war has turned violent.

With more and more Americans supporting the legalization of marijuana, an increasing abhorrence to the mass incarceration of non-violent offenders, and the general realization that the war on drugs didn't really work, alternatives to treating drug use as a crime are being proposed as ways forward to both help those struggling with addiction and keep dangerous chemicals off the streets.

One program from Seattle has attached a fair amount of attention and study. Dubbed the LEAD program, it could offer a new way forward for American drug policy.

The LEAD program

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is a program that shifts drug policy focus away from prosecution and towards recovery.

Rather than immediately arrest and lock up low-level drug offenders or prostitutes, officers are given the discretion to offer them help in the form of treatment programs. If they choose to accept treatment, they are given resources such as addiction recovery, stable housing, and help finding work.

Those who choose the treatment mostly avoid the court system altogether, and see more counselors than judges. They are not charged with crimes that go on their records either. The only real catch is that the "client," as they are called, has to see a counselor at least twice in the first month of signing up. Everything else, including how quickly they are expected to quit taking drugs, is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Violent offenders are not eligible for the program, and nobody has to participate in it. It would be strange if you didn't, though. While Seattle is a…. leader in this area, dozens of counties and municipalities around the country are looking into or have started similar programs.

While the program hasn't been around long, beginning only in 2011, it has been the subject of a few studies. One found that people who go through the program are much less likely to be arrested again than those who choose not to go through it. Another shows that LEAD graduates are more likely to have jobs and stable housing, both essential parts of staying clean and out of jail. There have also been reports of less drug use overall and a reduced prison population.

Why do this? Why spend the money on junkies and dope fiends?

Because it does what the war on drugs was supposed to do and never did: actually keep people off drugs.

While it can be satisfying to stick it to people we're angry at, it is rarely a suitable method for reaching social goals. Intellectuals of all political persuasions have condemned our current system for dealing with drug use as ineffective, immoral, and an immense waste of money.

The RAND Corporation has issued countless reports testifying to the lack of sense behind the strategy the war on drugs uses. Several studies have shown putting people in prison is a terrible way to make sure they don't use drugs again when they get out and has a variety of other problems it creates. Libertarian darling Milton Friedman condemned the War on Drugs from both an economic and a philosophic point of view, as has progressive hero Robert Reich.

When you can get those two to agree on a major policy option for both moral and economic reasons, you know you have something special.

The War on Drugs is a failure; only the most adamant generals in the fight can fail to see that. A new strategy for dealing with high rates of drug addiction and the pain it can cause is needed. The LEAD program shows that treating addiction as a disease rather than a moral failing and acting accordingly are not only viable but may be better methods for getting people to stop using drugs than anything we've tried before.

Whether we have the same political will to apply the LEAD program's lessons as we did when we wanted to lock up every pothead we could find is another question. Let's hope that we do.

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Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

U.S. Navy ships

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Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
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China's "artificial sun" sets new record for fusion power

China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.

Credit: STR via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

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