Heroin Treatment Favored 2-1 Over Jail Time for Users

More than two-thirds of Americans believe that the government should focus on providing treatment to drug users instead of prosecuting them, according to a survey released today by the Pew Research Center.

The Washington-based nonprofit also found that 63 percent of adults surveyed reported that it is “a good thing” that states are moving away from mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders, while 32 percent said it was a “bad thing.”

The survey’s findings come as the country is wrestling with how best to reshape drug and incarceration policies.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has advocated for the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for many nonviolent drug offenders, saying the government should focus resources on treatment.

Congress is considering legislation to give federal judges more leeway in sentences in drug cases, and a U.S. commission is set to reduce sentencing guidelines for nonviolent drug offenders. Voters in two states -- Washington and Colorado -- approved measures in 2012 that legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

The Pew survey reflects that shifting trend in public attitudes toward drug policy: 67 percent reported favoring treatment over prosecution for those who use illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine, and almost 70 percent said that alcohol was a bigger danger to people’s health and society than marijuana.

A separate survey by Pew released last month found that a majority of Americans -- 54 percent -- said that pot use should be legal, a reversal from a 2010 Pew survey that reported nearly the same percentage said that marijuana use should remain banned.

Even as Americans backed more liberal policies for handling narcotics users, they expressed concerned about the dangers of drug abuse, Pew said. Thirty-two percent of those surveyed described the country as facing a drug-abuse “crisis,” and 63 percent said it remained a “serious problem.”

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