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Substance abuse expert regrets raising drinking age

July 27, 2009 | 10:47 am

Beer

One of the people who was instrumental in pushing for laws to increase the legal drinking age to 21 now calls his actions "the single most regrettable decision" of his career.

Dr. Morris Chafetz, a psychiatrist who was on the presidential commission in the 1980s that recommended raising the drinking age to 21, made his remarks in an editorial that he is shopping for publication and which he released to the advocacy group Choose Responsibility. Chafetz wrote the editorial to mark the 25th anniversary of the law that was signed by President Ronald Reagan on July 17, 1984.

"Legal Age 21 has not worked," Chafetz said in the piece. "To be sure, drunk driving fatalities are lower now than they were in 1982. But they are lower in all age groups. And they have declined just as much in Canada, where the age is 18 or 19, as they have in the United States."

Chafetz said the law instead has resulted in "collateral, off-road damage" such as binge drinking that occurs in underage youth and crimes like date rape, assaults and property damage.

Chafetz is not new to controversy. A former presidential appointee at the White House Conference for a Drug-Free America, he is the author of two books that question the expertise of scientists, lawmakers and other experts: "Big Fat Liars," and "The Tyranny of Experts." His latest remarks on the legal age drinking law were applauded by Choose Responsibility, which is a leading advocacy organization working to lower the legal age. The group's efforts, and opposition to it, were profiled last year by the Los Angeles Times.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Phil Coate  /  Associated Press

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