DeWine Wades into Anti-Drug Morass with New Bill 

DeWine Wades into Anti-Drug Morass with New Bill 
Posted by FoM on March 07, 1999 at 07:36:26 PT

WASHINGTON - By land, sea and air, U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, has mapped out strategies in the war on drugs.He has skimmed across Caribbean waters aboard Coast Guard cutters, hovered in Drug Enforcement Administration helicopters off Haiti and the Dominican Republic, talked with the border patrol in El Paso, Texas, and walked in the poppy fields with Colombia's president - all to figure out how to destroy illegal drugs at their source.
DeWine's interest began more than two decades ago, when, by his estimate, eight of every 10 people he went after as a Greene County, Ohio, prosecutor were involved in drugs in some way. Subsequently, as Ohio's lieutenant governor, he worked to get more treatment programs in jails and prisons.The Republican lawmaker says his firsthand knowledge makes him appreciate how complex and comprehensive a national anti-drug strategy has to be. And he understands that this is not a war that can be won overnight.No one disagrees on this point. But there the consensus on Capitol Hill ends.DeWine and other Republicans are finding themselves in a tug of war with the Clinton administration over how to spend taxpayers' dollars effectively to reduce illicit drug use in the United States.Although White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey recently told Congress that the administration's new strategy would cut drug use and availability in half by 2007, DeWine is demanding tougher efforts to prevent illegal drugs from flowing into the United States. He wants to top off Clinton's proposed $17.8 billion anti-drug budget with another $2.6 billion over the next three years to pay for an overseas eradication, interdiction and crop-substitution strategy that he thinks will greatly disrupt the transit of cocaine and heroin."Ultimately, it means more planes, more radar, more ships interdicting drugs . . . driving price up and consumption down," he said.The White House is praising the involvement of DeWine, whose measure is among a handful of the GOP's top-priority bills in the new Congress. Yet all the while, it is stressing that many of his ideas are nothing new and were found in its international crime bill introduced last year.DeWine says only the federal government, not state or local authorities, can grapple with the problem of international drug trafficking and try to seize or disrupt drugs in transit. Yet he says the administration's funding level for interdiction fell between 1993 and 1998 until it was 12 percent of the budget, down from 33 percent.DeWine says he wants a balanced approach that includes education and treatment, and he is putting together legislation providing millions of dollars for youth and adult treatment programs in the criminal justice system. But he is starting with interdiction because he's seen how drugs find their way into the United States as soon as the effort stops. Last year, DeWine spearheaded what turned into a bipartisan effort pouring $690 million into an emergency spending bill for drug interdiction. This session, 14 GOP senators, including Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Spencer Abraham of Michigan, are co-sponsoring DeWine's "Drug Free Century Act." It awaits hearings in the Judiciary Committee.DeWine is also joining colleagues' objections to the recent White House claim that Mexico is cooperating with international efforts to combat drug trafficking and, therefore, should not be subject to U.S. sanctions.Drug-policy analysts are watching developments on Capitol Hill with a mixture of skepticism and concern, describing much of what is going on as political gamesmanship and views that center on getting tougher, not getting smarter."The underlying premise is, you can't be too tough when you're talking about drugs, and that leads to a kind of Sotheby's auction approach. The president says $17.1 billion, the GOP comes back with $17.9 billion. This is one area where you promise to throw money at the problem and people think you're doing something about it," said Eric Sterling, former Democratic counsel to the House Judiciary Committee responsible for overseeing national drug policy.Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, a liberal think tank, contends that there are few areas of national policy where the sameness, from the Reagan/Bush era to the Clinton years, is more glaring. Year after year, he said, two-thirds of the anti-drug budget goes toward law enforcement while treatment remains an afterthought.Yet John Walters, a deputy director in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy when it opened during the Bush administration, insists that treatment has not worked for the nation's large number of hard-core drug users because they're offered outpatient care rather than residential care or because they won't stay in programs.Walters and various Heritage Foundation analysts argue that a big part of the problem is that the federal government has never bothered to review the track record of drug treatment programs. Administration officials say the new strategy changes that, setting up an array of performance measures.Walters asserts that the White House must set the right tone in foreign policy, stressing how illicit drugs cost money and lives, or else Mexico and Colombia will remain "largely safe havens" for the drug trade. And he says federal law enforcers must concentrate on collapsing the infrastructure for drug trafficking by identifying criminals and striking quickly enough to make a difference.In the coming year, the Clinton administration wants to add $735 million to the anti-drug budget, increasing spending by $525 million for law enforcement and by $210 million for prevention and treatment.Jonathan Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz School of Policy and Management and a drug policy researcher for Rand Corp., says this budget "just basically increases everything without getting smarter." He contends that a better strategy would focus on getting rid of mandatory-minimum prison sentences for small-time drug users, increase money for treatment and exert more pressure on addicts to stay in programs. He says it also would try to control the "collateral damage" caused by illegal drug use, such as homicide, law enforcement corruption, overdose deaths, the spread of HIV infection, and child abuse and neglect.Sterling echoes the views of various liberal groups that insist that interdiction and crop control are costly and largely wasteful: "They have to be measured by the way they affect price, and illegal cocaine is priced near an all-time low."The Drug Policy Foundation, a Washington group whose board chairman is Ira Glasser of the American Civil Liberties Union and whose executive committee includes Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, is also attacking DeWine's plan to spend money on "military-style anti-drug methods." It maintains that the dollars could be better spent on public health efforts.Foundation spokesman Tyler Green declares that tens of billions of dollars that the U.S. government has spent to destroy drug crops in Central and South America and interdict drugs at the border "have been mostly for naught." In Capitol Hill's war on drugs, statistical skirmishes are commonplace. When DeWine introduced his bill Jan. 19, he cited rising drug use and more drug-related arrests and emergency room visits in recent years - on Clinton's watch. When the White House released its national drug-control strategy Feb. 8, it acknowledged a "tremendous toll" from illicit drug use but reported youth drug use leveling off and, in many instances, decreasing; more youngsters viewing drug use as risky and unacceptable behavior; a declining rate of drug-related murders; and lower cocaine production in Bolivia and Peru.Analysts explain that the problem may be characterized as "better" or "worse" depending on which indicators are used and how declines are interpreted. Drug-related murders are down, for example, but it may not be worth boasting about if it's because the market has settled down after years of violent competition or because the overall U.S. homicide rate is down, and not because drug-control strategies are working."Everybody always wants to get into this fight" over which strategy works best and which numbers reflect the problem, DeWine said. "But it's a losing fight, a stupid fight."
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