Fortunes in drugs

Despite the best efforts of drug-enforcement officials, the drug problem seems to be growing. From 1977 to 1979, government figures show increased use of marijuana and cocaine. And from mid-1979 to 1981, the Northeastern United States has seen a surge in heroin use.

Although experts say the latest figures, when released, may show a small drop in use of some drugs, the drug problem remains overwhelming. In 1980, the federal government estimates that between $68 billion and $89 billion was spent on illicit drugs. This would make drug dealing (if it were a legal business) the nation's second-largest corporation after Exxon.

''The money involved is absolutely phenomenal,'' says Anthony Senneca, agent in charge of the Hartford office of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Very large dealers ''are rich. They live very nicely,'' he says. Dealers make so much money, many of them continue to traffic in narcotics, even with the heavy threat of arrest in cities like Hartford, Conn. (The profit from a pound of marijuana ranges from $500 to $4,000, according to 1981 figures in Narcotics Control Digest.)

The pull of profit is so great that an addict may successfully complete treatment and find a job, only to fall back to drug dealing, says Donald J. McConnell, executive director of the Connecticut alcohol and drug abuse commission. In one case, a dealer went back to the widespread drug network he had built up, even though he had landed a job earning $10,000 a year. ''This guy would tell me he could make that in a month dealing drugs,'' McConnell says.

Police are not immune to the large sums of money available from drug dealing. In Massachusetts, for example, a state police corporal was recently arrested for conspiring to import and distribute several tons of marijuana.

How widespread is drug-related corruption among police? No one knows. Geoffrey Alpert, professor of sociology at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., believes it is widespread. ''If someone offers you $10,000 to be 20 minutes late, would you take it?'' he asks. ''The dollar amounts are staggering.''

Certainly, the temptations can be enormous, says Lt. Larry Jetmore, commander of Hartford's vice and narcotics squad. But, he says, he has never known a crooked narcotics officer. ''We have to be beyond reproach. We get the so-called glory for successful operations. We're also the part of the police department most susceptible to criticism. When a cop goes bad, it's felt by all of us. It just takes so long to gain the public's confidence again.'

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