Drug War's Marching Orders

President Bush redeclared a "war" on drugs on Tuesday, making it one front in the war against terrorism.

This isn't much of a stretch, since terrorist groups in some parts of the world rely on drug money, as in Colombia. Al Qaeda probably received a cut of Afghanistan's opium trade.

Unlike past presidents' wars on drugs, Mr. Bush bravely set targets for himself and his drug czar, John Walters, including a 25 percent decrease in the use of illegal drugs in the next five years. This will put the president's drive for accountability to a hard test, but his willingness to do so is admirable.

But like his predecessors, Bush vowed to toughen drug interdiction and sustain crop eradication in the Andes and elsewhere. He also gave interdiction the biggest increase in the $19 billion antidrug budget.

And he put equal emphasis on the most compelling rationale for the drug war: Drugs devastate millions of lives, squandering human potential and damaging the nation. His strategy stresses the need to reduce the demand for drugs by increasing treatment for drug users and addicts.

Drug use is a little like a long balloon. When one part of it is squeezed, another part gets bigger. Of late, narcotics-related crime has dropped in many US cities, but it has expanded in many rural parts. A survey just released by the Partnership for a Drug Free America found teens smoking and drinking somewhat less, but using the "party drug" Ecstasy in alarmingly increasing numbers.

The "balloon" needs to have the air - the misguided desire to get high - let out of it. This will take exactly the multifaceted commitment Bush indicated. Drug education efforts have to be sustained and strengthened. Parents have to be mobilized against drugs. Faith-based organizations that fight addiction should be fully utilized.

Not least, treatment and rehabilitation must be made more available. Much of the continuing drug problem centers on addicts who constantly feed their habit. This is a major part of the "demand" side.

Drug rehab, however, has failures and successes. To avoid drugs or kick a habit, individuals need to see that drugs never bring pleasure, escape, or love. In that regard, the compassion and care of parents, communities, and spiritual counselors is crucial.

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