Drug Czar and Public Health Advocates Battle!

Drug Czar and Public Health Advocates Battle!
Posted by FoM on March 08, 1999 at 07:41:04 PT
over drug war strategy!
 White House drug czar General Barry McCaffrey asked a House subcommittee Wednesday for a 4.3 percent increase in his office's budget.But a coalition of drug policy, civil rights, and public health advocates said McCaffrey's misplaced priorities means the government has wasted much of the money allocated to the drug war in the past tenyears. 
In a move timed to coincide with the anti-drug chief's testimony, the coalition, entitled simply the Network of Reform Groups, offered up an alternative strategy to combat drug use.The group's members include the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Sense for Drug Policy, the National Association for Public Health Policy, Family Watch, the Center for Women Policy Studies, the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, the National Black Police Association, and the Black Coalition on AIDS, as well as individuals such as veteran police chief and drug-policy expert Joseph McNamara.Although the budget controlled by the Office of National Drug Control Policy has expanded from $3.6 to $18 billion since it was founded in 1988, these critics argue that its emphasis on law enforcement hasn'tworked."In the last ten years, we can't point to any victories," said Kevin Zeese, president of the non-profit group Common Sense for DrugPolicy.High school students still report that marijuana is widely available. More of them are lighting up joints than ever before, and at youngerages.The price for heroin and cocaine has dropped since the 1980s and its purity has increased. Drug overdose deaths have risen sharply and emergency-room admissions due to drug use are at their peak levels.Despite an 85 percent increase in the federal prison population between 1985 to 1995 due to drug-related offenses, about 14 million Americans continue to use drugs occasionally -- the same figure as in 1996."It's hard to see how this policy stands the light of day," said Joseph McNamara, the former police chief in San Jose, Calif. "I see it overall as a disaster for our country."All these statistics are included both in these critics' proposal, titled "The Effective National Drug Control Strategy," and McCaffrey's planned strategy for 1999.McCaffrey, however, highlights the decrease in coca production in Peru and Bolivia. He also points out that drug-related murders have, like homicide statistics nationwide, declined dramatically since the early1990s.Though the coalition draws a distinction between their definitions of drug abuse and drug experimentation, they share with McCaffrey a common set of top priorities: discouraging teens from abusing drugs and improving access to drug treatment.McCaffrey's priorities are based on "a balanced strategy of prevention, drug treatment, stiff law enforcement, and international cooperation," as he stated last month when the proposed budget was first made public last month.Yet his budget, like the office's fiscal spending in the past, devotes two-thirds of its dollars to combating crime and internationaltrafficking.The coalition's budget, in contrast, would spend $2 on education, prevention, and treatment for every $1 spent on law enforcement.In his suggested increase for next year, McCaffrey asks for $210 million to expand drug treatment and prevention programs and $524 million to step up law enforcement efforts.He has requested $85 million more for drug treatment programs, saying that on average, half the people who need drug treatment, particularly those in prisons, actually get it.Noting that drug use among teens has been "rising at an alarming rate" since 1990, McCaffrey is asking for $10 million more to add to his $195 million anti-drug media campaign.But even McCaffrey's millions of dollars targeting teens, the coalition members argue, aren't changing kids' attitudes toward drugs.Zero-tolerance policies in schools, "Just Say No"-style media campaigns, and the much-vaunted D.A.R.E. program's scare tactics only further alienate teens from adult advice, they insist.In the D.A.R.E. program, police officers come into schools to discourage kids from trying drugs, and organize drug-free activities for them."DARE goes over great with the fifth-graders but three years later, they're laughing at it," said Dr. David Duncan, of the National Association for Public Health Policy. "They think it's ridiculous."Aggressive crime-fighting tactics, the coalition said, foster racist police policies, disenfranchise African-Americans, and because drug use is a consensual crime between seller and user, creates a war-like mentality of us v. them on city streets."The police have been pulled into a war that they can't win," said Joseph McNamara.Furthermore, said Vincent Schiraldi of the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, most state subtract funds from education as they spend more on prisons. "It's almost a dollar-for-dollar trade off," said Schiraldi.The coalition's proposed budget recommends tripling funding to reduce teen drug use -- but by supporting after-school programs, mentoring and "honest drug education," instead of DARE, which they see as irreparably flawed. On the law enforcement front, the coalition would end the sentencing disparity between selling crack and powder cocaine, launch a federal needle exchange program to curtail the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, and eliminate mandatory minimum sentences to allow judges to exercise their own discretion.
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