Business's Fight Against Drugs

WE are entering an era when business must join government in addressing social crises. No longer can we consider government the sole guardian against crime, illness, and economic injustice. Under the new budget, the federal government's hands will be fiscally tied. Few new programs will be implemented, or current programs expanded. Private enterprise will have to redefine its investment agenda to include the future health and well-being of its workers. Nowhere is the private sector's new mandate more applicable than in the war against drugs. The drug crisis affects business directly. No nation can hope to achieve a comparative advantage when narcotics pervade its work force. An airline computer operator cost his company $19 million when, high on marijuana, he failed to insert a tape at a crucial moment.

Corporations, as taxpayers, also share the secondary costs caused by narcotics. Increased crime due to the drug trade and emergency-room overcrowding resulting from drug-related violence drain every organization of precious resources.

Recently, the House Select Committee on Narcotics held a hearing to explore the impact of drugs on American business and the economy. A number of distinguished business leaders told us what corporations have done to bolster the nation's antidrug efforts. Robert Wright, president of NBC, described his company's donating 25 percent of their public-service budget to drug education, along with including drug-related issues in program content. James Burke, chairman of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, described his organization efforts using media to make illegal drugs less acceptable.

Efforts like these have increased awareness and understanding about drugs. People are less likely to experiment with drugs today than they were 20 years ago. But awareness programs, in the words of Mr. Burke, only deal with the ``front end of the system.'' Public relations campaigns can only go so far.

The drug crisis is demand-driven. Interdiction efforts consistently prevent only 5 to 10 percent of all drugs from entering the US. The only way to win the war against drugs is to attack the problem at its roots. Poor schools, inadequate housing, and lack of job training contribute to hopelessness and the need for ``pain relievers'' like cocaine, crack, or heroin.

Some firms have already begun to focus on education, employment training, and housing. Companies can lend managerial expertise to schools in such areas as personnel, security, and food service. They can also offer mentor programs to youths in need of positive role models. Youth employment programs, such as the New York City Partnership's ``Summer Jobs '90,'' give young people employment training while enlightening them to the possibilities of success for those who stay in school and off drugs.

By 2000, some 16 million jobs will be created in the United States, but only 14 million young people will be available to fill them. Over half those new jobs will require at least a high school diploma. And more than one-third of the people filling those jobs will be minorities, the people most threatened by our drug crisis.

Affordable housing can be created by business and government working together. Joint economic-development programs in New York and around the US have created a viable economic base in communities, leading to job creation and retention.

Just as lower demand removes the incentive to deal drugs, so does the inability to spend one's profits from dealing. Companies can help by preventing drug-money laundering. Recently in New York City, five prominent car dealerships were caught accepting cash from IRS agents posing as drug dealers. A congressional investigation showed that 95 percent of businesses surveyed around the US willingly accepted ``drug'' cash. Strong enforcement against laundering must be incorporated with a willingness, particularly in the finance industry, to report large cash transactions. Business and government, working in concert, can conquer the scourge of drugs. The coalition that arises out of the antidrug effort can also pave the way for partnerships against hunger, illiteracy, and other issues of our day.

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