|Dope Wars - America's Unwinnable Civil Conflict|
Posted by FoM on August 14, 2000 at 20:42:40 PT|
Part I: Battle Without End
Source: Financial Times
Stephen Samuelson of Standish, Michigan, is an artist who does pastoral murals on the white brick walls of prison cell blocks. A former drug dealer, user and biker, he has so far served 32 years for crimes committed under the influence.
He has a true insider's view of America's war on drugs. "It is the little guys who end up in prison," he says. "We keep the system going. We're the job security for the guards, for the lawyers, for the judges."
Mr Samuelson, alongside his own victims, is among the casualties of America's longest and most intractable conflict. Since 1980, the anti-drug effort has drained an estimated $500bn from the treasuries of the state and federal governments - much of it to lock up drug offenders.
For all the money and effort, it is a fight the US seems to be losing. Experts say that hard drug use may be down from 15 years ago but most believe that, overall, Americans snort, sniff, smoke, ingest and inject more illegal substances than ever.
In cities and towns, drugs are as available as ever and often cost less than they did years ago.
Yet the war goes on, costing the US almost $20bn this year, producing few gains and much suffering to its many victims. Some critics ask, why not declare victory and get out, as the US did in Vietnam?
This series attempts to address that question through examining a few of the hundreds of programmes that comprise the war on drugs.
From an office in the White House complex, General Barry McCaffrey, commander-in-chief - or "drug czar" - holds a tight rein on the activities of more than 50 agencies. He has vowed to halve drug supplies by 2007. To achieve this goal, the general sets a pace that is so "relentless, high-pressured and expedient in nature" that he is unable to retain sufficient staff, according to the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
The general is not the first leader to set ambitious goals. In the 1960s, the UN agreed to rid the world of cocaine, heroin and marijuana in 25 years. President George Bush in 1989 promised to cut drug use by 55 per cent in the next decade.
All the strategies, targets and performance measures, posted on the walls of Gen McCaffrey's office are aimed at a ubiquitous enemy. Pushers still thrive in thousands of city parks and in rural towns. In New York, a popular computer game, "Dope Wars", allows players to act as "drug dealers", buying and selling as the market changes in cities all over the world.
Over the past 10 years, overdose fatalities have soared across the western states. While demand for some drugs has fallen, it has risen for others. Ecstasy, a party drug many young people believe is harmless, has become "the pot of our generation," said one user.
The administration's campaign to wipe out illegal drugs has become the feeding trough for a sprawling collection of vested interests. Many of the lawmakers who vote for anti-drug programmes genuinely care about the toll taken on American society. But others are simply afraid to be seen as "soft" on drugs or crime.
Business is generally a strong supporter of the anti-drug war - some companies because they benefit from lucrative contracts, others because they lose from the business climate drugs creates.
The constituency ranges from military contractors to prison guard unions to drug testing laboratories and social workers.
Anticipating commercial gain, many US companies lobbied hard for increased counter-narcotics assistance to Colombia, including military hardware manufacturers and oil companies.
As the nation's prison population approaches the 2m mark, the so-called "prison industrial complex", which builds, supplies and guards penitentiaries, has lobbied for a tough line on long-term incarceration. A new study by the Justice Policy Institute found one in four inmates - more than 450,000 - have been convicted of drug offences.
"Drug policy has been driven more by politics than policy," said Congressman Ted Strickland, an Ohio Democrat who once worked as a prison psychologist. "The drug war has made it necessary for prisons to expand and caused the private prison industry to be born. That industry works aggressively in building prisons and getting public dollars to support them."
Police and federal agents also like the drug war. Under controversial "asset forfeiture" rules, aimed at drug "king pins", they can keep a share of the profits when they seize houses, cars, boats, cash and other property of suspected drug offenders. This has produced widespread corruption and mistreatment, documented in many published reports and in a new book by author James Bovard, "Feeling your pain: The Explosion and Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore Years."
Assets are often seized on the basis of the word of confidential informants (sometimes ex-convicts), who receive up to 25 per cent of the value of any property the government sequesters, says Mr Bovard. "The vast majority of people whose property is seized by federal agents are never formally charged with a crime."
For all its cost and controversy, the drug war drew virtually no attention at the Republican convention last week, nor is it an issue on the agenda at the Democratic convention next week.
But out on the streets, the drug war is all too real. Protesters held a "shadow convention" in Philadelphia, a few miles from the Republican meeting. Mothers of the longtime incarcerated carried pictures of their daughters, holding vigils like the mothers of the "disappeared" in Argentina.
"All the drugs coming into this country today are flown in on Air Force One," he insisted, blaming the US government for America's drug plague. There are others who blame the government for the drug problem - but their criticisms, coming from the right and the left of the political spectrum, are about misguided spending and mistaken policies.
One of Washington's most controversial anti-drug efforts is a new $1.3bn package of military and humanitarian assistance for Colombia, the world's largest producer and distributor of cocaine and a "significant supplier" of heroin, according to the US government. The aid package has received strong support from many business interests with stakes either in Colombia or in supplying equipment to fight the drug war.
Ivan Eland of the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington and Adam Isacson of the liberal Center for International Policy have studied US assistance for Colombia's anti-drug effort. They say Washington's policies are inadvertently fuelling corruption in Latin America and insurgency in Colombia.
Mr Eland says that as long as drugs remain illegal and the US crackdown stringent, the prices and profits of the trade remain high. This provides cash to buy off police, prosecutors, judges and customs officers, creating an environment of corruption which further encourages insurgencies.
Mr Isacson says increasing aid to the military risks radicalising hardliners in the Colombian army and among the guerrillas, escalating the conflict and delaying a settlement.
The military push, they warn, could be futile. "Here in the US we haven't been very successful with our own policies," said Mr Isacson. "But we're trying to impose them on other countries whose societies are very complex and diverse."
US anti-trafficking aid to Colombia has steadily expanded - from $65m in 1996 to $300m in 2000. With US funding and technical assistance, Colombia last year aerially sprayed 42,000 hectares of coca and more than 8,000 hectares of opium poppies. Even so, coca output rose in southern Colombia after eradication programmes in Bolivia and Peru depressed production there.
In the US as well as Colombia, addiction to heroin and cocaine and their proceeds has fed violence and despair. While 50,000 Americans die each year in drug-related incidents, many more Colombians are injured, killed or forced to flee the country because of the trade.
The centerpiece of the US contribution to "Plan Colombia", as the administration of Andres Pastrana, the Colombian president, calls its anti-drugs drive, is the creation of three 950-man "counter-narcotics battalions" within the Colombian Army. The battalions would push into the new coca-growing areas of southern Colombia and destroy the crop and factories. US aid is also intended to intensify drug eradication, prevent shipments and provide crucial helicopter support.
"If we are ever to have a chance to succeed, this is it," said a US State Department official.
The new US aid package came after Colombian officials convinced both the administration and Congress that drug production would escalate and Colombia's economy and democracy would founder without international help. That message was shaped and amplified by business lobbyists. Defence contractors and oil companies provided most of the push for the aid package, backed by companies with stakes in Colombia.
United Technologies, with a factory coincidentally in the home state of Senator Christopher Dodd, who pushed for the aid package, will reap $234m from the sale of 18 Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters used to combat drugs. Textron of Texas will get $2m each for the upgrade of 42 old Huey choppers.
Lockheed Martin, according to published reports, helped convince the administration to back the package by sponsoring a poll which showed that Democrats lagged behind Republicans in public perception in being "tough on drugs". The defence manufacturer is to gain a $68m contract for early-warning radar systems.
Drug addiction, guerilla war and kidnappings are bad for business, particularly the oil business. Colombia's oil reserves are a key strategic concern for the US, as well as an investment companies cannot easily abandon. The 480-mile Limon Covenas pipeline was bombed by guerillas 79 times in 1999.
The US Colombia Business Partnership, which includes Occidental Petroleum, Texaco and BP as well as Caterpillar, Bechtel and Pfizer, has told Washington that "important existing and future business opportunities for US firms" are threatened by narcotics trafficking, a spokesman said.
"The oil companies have been the leading proponents of Plan Colombia and the lead funders of the US Colombia Business Partnership," said Carwil James, a researcher for Project Underground, a human rights and natural resources group. "There's a tight relationship between the military and the oil companies in the south."
The partnership said Colombia badly needed investment in oil exploration or it would become a net importer by 2005. The US also needs Colombia, its seventh-largest supplier of oil.
Other companies that stand to benefit from Washington's anti-drug drive in Colombia include Military Professional Resources Inc and Dyncorp in Virginia, which essentially provide mercenaries - many of them former soldiers - to assess and train the Colombian military and police, help maintain aircraft and spray coca.
For all the US preaching about transparency in business, the State Department has not released the list of contracts given to private companies in connection with Plan Colombia. However, a senior US official acknowledged paying Dyncorps $35m last year for various related services.
US companies will also gain from $331m in funds to develop democratic institutions, non-narcotics farming and aid for displaced people. Although Latin American non-governmental organisations will get funding, US companies will get most of the money, an aid official said. "Our preference is to buy American."
Unlike the Argentine mothers of the "disappeared", whose children were snatched by an authoritarian government in the 1980s, the New York mothers know where their children are - but that provides little consolation.
Most of their sons and daughters are doing hard time for relatively small drug offences, sentenced under laws passed under governor Nelson Rockefeller almost three decades ago.
"This is America's Dark Ages," says Randy Credico, once a rising young comedian, now an organiser of the demonstrations and purveyor of horror tales growing out of the so-called "Rockefeller laws" in the "Empire Prison State".
"Everyone's hurt by this war on drugs," he says. "People get pulled over without probable cause on the highways. Cops go into their houses and check around. I'm more frightened by the police than the guy selling drugs on my block."
The political crusade to wipe out drug use in the US has had many unforeseen consequences - not least the development of a corrections system with almost 2m people in prison and 4.6m on parole and probation. About 24 per cent of them are serving sentences for drug possession or sale.
Illegal drugs have had a particularly damaging effect in the black communities throughout America, according to groups such as Human Rights Watch. In June, the US-based group issued a report saying the drug war was being waged overwhelmingly against blacks. There are plenty of statistics to support that view: the Lindesmith Center/ Drug Policy Foundation, an independent drug research group, says that while African Americans constitute 13 per cent of the illegal drug users in the US, they account for 74 per cent of those sentenced for drug offences.
Attempts to divert drug addicts from prison programmes to treatment are often met with opposition by lobbyists from the private prison industry and others which benefit from growth in the prison population.
California, for example, has the highest incarceration rate for drug-related crimes of any US state. An initiative on next November's ballot would put many addicts into treatment, but the proposal is facing well-funded opposition from the California prison guard union, the second largest political lobby in the state.
"The penal system is big business," said Ed Barnet of Phoenix House, a drug treatment programme in Brooklyn, New York. "People make a lot of bucks on the backs of people going back and forth to jail. We're up against a tremendous push to expand the system."
While resistance to change is strong in state legislatures - particularly from districts where prisons provide much-needed jobs - the futility of long prison terms for drug addicts has been recognised at the federal level. "We cannot simply arrest our way out of the problems posed by chronic drug and alcohol abusers," said General Barry McCaffrey, who runs the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
As the Clinton administration's top drug policy official, Gen McCaffrey oversees programmes which channel funding into the creation of a comprehensive prison diversion system which includes drug testing, treatment and graduated sanctions for those who do not co-operate.
But it will be years before significant reform can be achieved in a system Gen McCaffrey describes as "ad hoc", with overflowing case loads and prosecutors struggling to cope with "thousands of drug-addicted criminals windmilling through the jail and prison system".
Some drug offenders have been luckier than others. In Brooklyn 10 years ago, when drug crime was soaring and the public was beginning to give up on addicts, Charles Hynes - a daring district attorney - launched the Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Prison Programme (D-Tap).
The D-Tap programme offers two years of treatment to non-violent offenders who have already served prison time. The drop-out rate is still substantial, at about one-third in some treatment centres.
But those who "graduate" get their lives back on track: 92 per cent are able to work, have jobs and are paying taxes, according to D-Tap figures.
Their two-year treatment costs an average $42,500 (£28,300) compared with the $82,500 it would cost to keep an addict in prison, officials say.
Rhonda, who did not want to give her full name, was one of those fortunate enough to make it into the programme, and was sent to Phoenix House, a premier treatment centre. "She was facing big time if she didn't go into this," said David Weslin, assistant district attorney. "It forced her to think about how she would miss her children growing up. She's someone we thought we could turn around."
Now the attractive African-American, sporting a stylish blue blazer, guides visitors around Phoenix House and describes tough rules it imposes on residents. Beds must be made and clothes hung. Some residents are taught for the first time to brush their teeth. They also receive medical care, job training and intensive counselling from both the Phoenix House officials and the district attorney's office.
Gen McCaffrey is a strong backer of Phoenix House and the D-Tap Programme. But He acknowledges "a significant gap" between those who need treatment and those who receive it.
An estimated 5m drug users were classified as needing "immediate" help in 1998; only 2.1m received it and "certain parts of the country had little treatment capacity of any sort," Gen McCaffrey's office said in its 2000 annual report.
In Brooklyn alone last year, more than 11,000 were arrested for drug crimes, but few received treatment - even in one of the most progressive districts. Between 1990 and mid-2000, 1,174 defenders had been accepted in the D-Tap programme; 248 were still in treatment and 454 had completed the programme and had criminal charges against them dismissed. "We're very selective, and that's why this programme works," Mr Weslin said.
Although treatment has proven more successful than prison at rehabilitating addicts, its success is not guaranteed. "Prisons don't do anything more than house people. We try to effect change," said Mr Barnet. "But we have our own problems in terms of losing people... Every one we lose is a life we anticipate will be back on the corner using drugs."
Drug testing is a growth business in the US. According to one study, about half of all American workers under the age of 49 were tested for drug use by their employers in 1997, as companies enthusiastically joined America's war on drugs.
Ms Zimmer, a Queens College, New York, sociologist who has studied the drug war for the last 10 years, says many companies - including courier services, test tube makers and airlines - now have stakes in the battle to eviscerate drug use.
Science, also, is benefiting from federal funding. Researchers are studying the impact of drug use on the human body, the characteristics of users, and medicines to free addicts from their habits.
Many scientists believe the key to understanding drug addiction is to be found in the human brain. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, which supervises the science front of the drug war, says 25 years of research has brought the agency to the cusp of new discoveries for causes, prevention and treatment of drug addiction.
Research has yielded an understanding of molecular details of every abused drug and the action they exert on the body. NIDA is receiving $690m in federal funding this year. It will award 12,000 research grants and fund a clinical trials network to determine which methods work best in treatment centres.
NIDA is not immune from criticism. "NIDA never does a sober cost/benefit analysis of the drug war itself," said James Bovard, author of a new book, Feeling Your Pain, which dissects many of the drug programmes.
Another critic is Marsha Rosenbaum, a former NIDA researcher, now San Francisco director of Lindesmith Centre-Drug Policy Foundation, which opposes US drug policies. "We knew everything we needed to know about methadone," she says of the drug that is given to addicts in place of heroin. "But they kept funding studies anyway."
Agency officials believe that soon they will prove a theory which treatment specialists have held for years: that addiction - or vulnerability to addiction - is genetic. Researchers hope to discover biological markers that would identify those who are more susceptible to drug abuse.
Research discoveries are then used to develop new drugs that they hope to substitute for more damaging and addictive illegal substances.
"We started doing medication development 10 years ago when it was clear that the pharmaceutical industry wasn't interested in doing it," says Dr Tim Condon, NIDA associate director. "There is a stigma associated with addiction and the attitude that 'They did this to themselves'."
However, pharmaceutical cures rather than abstinence to kick the habit are controversial among many treatment providers, such as Michael Guiro, of a Phoenix House programme in New York.
"The best way to go in the long run is a drug-free approach," he says.
But the drug policy office in the White House has already concluded that drug use to combat drug addiction, is acceptable.
"It should be approached like other chronic illnesses - such as diabetes and hypertension," the office said in its 2000 annual report.
In a NIDA brain-imaging centre in Baltimore, researchers are studying human and monkey brains to learn where drugs act, the neurotransmitter systems with which they act and the timing of the distribution of drugs in the body.
"We are also studying how the brains of drug abusers act differently from nonabusers," Dr Alaine Kines says.
She says some scientists think that drug abusers have "a problem" with the orbital frontal cortex in the underside of the brain.
Ms Zimmer is less than impressed with the brain research. "I don't think it tells us much, nor is it clear what these pictures mean. They are bright and dramatic, but I don't think they answer the question of why some people take too many drugs and why some don't.
"What if it can be determined who is likely to become an addict? I worry about the interventions that they will do. How do we know for sure if they are any good?"
NIDA has also set aside $54m for research on "party drugs", particularly ecstasy, for which demand is surging among young people.
The science agency has already concluded that heavy ecstasy use could lead to impairment in other cognitive functions, such as the ability to reason verbally.
But the research is preliminary, Ms Rosenbaum says, and the "exaggeration and hysteria" of the message just justifies more crackdowns and seizures by police.
This, she worries, may bring on to the market look-alike drugs that are far more dangerous.
The warnings are not frightening to millions of young people taking the drug, Ms Zimmer says. "They are not dropping like flies. They're having fun."
It is difficult to bet against science, which has brought miracle cures for diseases all over the world. However critics charge that a silver-bullet cure is too easy and too close to taking drugs in the first place.
If the scientists have it right, a pill could conquer the drug plague, and all the billions of dollars spent each year on military hardware, aerial spraying, imprisonment and even treatment could some day be saved. Drug-dependent businesses would go the way of the buggy whip. But it is not likely to happen soon.
News Articles Courtesy Of MapInc. and Map Posted by Doc-Hawk:
By Nancy Dunne
US: Dope Wars (Part 1 of 4) - America's Unwinnable Civil Conflict
US: Dope Wars (Part 2 of 4) - Crackdown On Colombia
US: Dope Wars (Part 3 of 4) - Finding An Alternative To Prison
US: Dope Wars (Part 4 of 4) - Brain May Hold The Key To Addiction
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