Drugs and borders

TWO new factors make clear the increasing seriousness of the fight the United States and other nations are waging against illegal drugs. One is a new congressional report that finds an increasing use of narcotics in the US, with the number of heroin addicts for the first time exceeding 500,000. The second is the new use of violence by drug traffickers against US drug agents, with the kidnapping and murder in Mexico of an agent of the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Similar violence is being used by drug merchants against enforcement efforts in growing and processing nations. These developments come less than two months after a UN report found international drug use at a record high. It concluded that almost 50 tons of cocaine is smuggled into the US every year. Not only is the United States affected. So, too, are Western European nations where many drug users live, and Latin American and Asian nations where the growth or production of drugs is big business and, through corruption, threatens the integrity of some governments.

In addition, law enforcement authorities warn that the No. 1 cause of crime in the United States is the desire of drug users to obtain money to purchase illegal drugs. Crimping the drug flow, they say, is essential to reduce crime.

Repelling the drug invasion will not be easy. But it is essential. It will require continued determination and effort on at least three fronts.

International efforts. There must be a stronger pressuring of nations that are sources of supply to stop growing, processing, or transporting drugs. Most countries are not working hard enough. Some US officials, for example, say that Mexico's antidrug program has faltered. Indeed, an unfortunate sense of irritation has recently crept into drug-related discussions between the two nations, with some Mexican officials allegedly feeling that the US has made too much out of the recent kidnapping and murder of the US drug agent, and US officials reportedly critical of Mexico for not doing enough to curb the border drug trade.

Bolstering US drug agencies. In particular, that means strengthening the efforts of the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

Education. Young Americans need to learn more about the unhappy effects of drug use. Some evidence of success exists. The traffic in drugs may well be stopped by shutting off the flow at the end of the pipeline -- by drying up its market.

The effort to defeat the drug merchants inside the US and at the source must also continue. US crackdowns on drug smuggling have yielded impressive hauls of illegal drugs; yet all involved acknowledge that far more drugs get through than are stopped.

Colombia's year-long effort to root out illegal drug processing and smuggling operations has resulted in more than 1,400 arrests. Colombia is a major processing point for cocaine shipped to the US. Few people arrested in Colombia's crackdown have been found guilty, however.

Nonetheless, the combined efforts against drugs in the US, Colombia, and to a lesser extent other nations have evidently concerned the drug merchants: They have responded with increased violence.

In the long term the most important requirement is to make young people aware of the negative consequences of drug use. Here American society is beginning to show progress. Early this year the federal government's annual survey of drug use among high school seniors reported a considerable decline in the percentage of those who had used an illegal drug during the preceding month.

These statistics indicate that a corner may have been turned among the young. But it is no time to relax the effort in any area. Drug merchants are digging in for a long fight. It is a contest that Americans who oppose drug use can and must win. It is time to redouble the national effort. ----30{et

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