Drug war: enlisting society

IT is sometimes easy to forget, as we read of one President after another declaring ``war on drugs,'' that there would be no drugs to declare war on, no supply to be cut off, if there were no demand for drugs in the first place. However relentless traffickers may be, however vicious their tactics, they would be powerless in a land where each person had simply decided to say ``no'' to this ultimate form of materialism.

Each individual's decision to live drug-free is a stone in a wall of fortification that would protect society beyond the US Drug Enforcement Administration's wildest dreams. For some individuals, that decision must be made again and again -- and will not be made easily. No wonder the White House wants to call in the Pentagon to help. It is easier to conquer territory than human hearts.

We do not want to make light of the private miseries that push people into drug use. Nor do we want to underestimate the power of peer pressure and groupthink, especially for experimenting youngsters and those in desperate circumstances.

But surely, there are enough people whose own lives are sufficiently under control that they can throw lifelines to their brothers and sisters in need of help.

It often happens that people find themselves in a social group that condones drug use, and fall into the habit themselves, or start using drugs and then begin to cut out of their lives those who would disapprove of this. We need to make use of positive peer pressure, to make sure that young people, particularly, have more wholesome friends and activities. The hubris of those who would claim they can ``control'' their use of dangerous substances deserves rebuke.

Society does not have to be overwhelmed by a drug crisis or be unduly alarmed at the failures of humankind. Specific problems -- such as the appearance of new drugs like ``crack'' -- need specific responses, as they are getting. But beyond that, whether the use of this or that drug is up x percent or down y percent is less important than a general awareness that there is a major problem.

And most broadly speaking, the public response to that problem must be to build a national consensus against drugs, a recognition that drugs are a problem, and not a solution, and that society and individuals must be drug-free.

It will not be easy. With millions of prescriptions written every year in the United States, the line between medication and recreation is not always clear. People have got used to expecting fast, fast, fast relief from whatever ails them.

And despite crackdowns on drunken driving, alcohol remains a socially acceptable -- and legal -- mood-altering drug. Moreover, there remains a morbid fascination with drugs and with the celebrities who use them and are destroyed by them. This was the case so tragically with University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias: Just drafted to play with the Boston Celtics, Bias died last week after an experiment with cocaine.

The war against drugs is too important to be left to the generals. Everyone must enlist. Fourth in a series

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