CHICAGO — THE United States drug problem has become so pervasive that individual states have decided not to wait for federal action. Instead, they have pushed ahead on several fronts. For example:
Seven governors signed on Sunday the Middle Atlantic Governors' Compact on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, a regional initiative to encourage and formalize informal cooperative efforts among the eight states.
Virginia this year and next will spend nearly $75 million in antidrug efforts, including stepped-up law enforcement and a private/public partnership to address drug abuse by school-age children. Virginia is the first state to extend a well-regarded school drug-education program - called Drug Abuse Resistance Education or DARE - to every area of the state.
Pennsylvania this year more than quadrupled the amount of funds spent on its antidrug efforts. To persuade the legislature and bring the problem home to the public, the governor created a dramatic 14-minute video of testimony gathered in seven public forums about the drug problem across the state.
``The whole drug situation is changing quite rapidly in our civilization,'' says Delaware Gov. Michael Castle (R), one of the 50 state chief executives gathered here for the annual meeting of the National Governors' Association (NGA). ``There is a broader use of [drugs]. There's a greater fear of this because it reaches deeper into our communities.''
On Sept. 5, the Bush administration is expected to unveil its long-awaited drug program. But some governors doubt that the new effort will contain much help for their states.
``I am not at all hopeful that that the US government is going to be moving in a big way,'' says Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey (D). ``There's been a lot of talk, but we still have to see some dollars.''
The states' fight - as well as the federal government's likely plan - is along two broad fronts: controlling the supply of drugs coming into the US, and curbing the demand for drugs within the nation.
The supply side of the battle is a stop-gap measure, says Florida Gov. Bob Martinez (R). As the NGA's spokesman on the drug issue, he has unveiled a plan that calls for increased federal efforts to curb the supply coming from Central America. The plan includes US help to increase the enforcement capabilities of the drug-producing nations and economic aid to provide legitimate business alternatives to the peasants who currently produce drugs.
But the real improvement that states can provide is in reducing demand for drugs, Mr. Martinez says. And most all states are trying new initiatives to educate the public.
In Florida, for example, the legislature passed 18 drug-related bills in its 1989 session, including the establishment of drug-free school zones and mandatory drug-testing for new state employees and current state workers holding sensitive positions.
The research so far shows that certain kinds of educational initiatives have had an impact at least in the short-term, says Jean O'Neil, research director at the National Crime Prevention Council. What is not known is whether the message is effective over a period of years, she adds.
Nor is the payoff of any of these measures likely to be seen in the short-term, the governors acknowledge.
``I don't know if we have convinced people that it's that serious,'' says Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D), who spearheaded the seven-state compact, which also includes Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. ``How do we get this over?''