We Can't Surrender in the War on Drugs

THE cold war is over - but not the drug war. Despite the devastating impact of drugs on families, communities, and the economy, however, drug abuse seems to have become a non-issue in the 1992 campaign.

The president can rightly claim that overall levels of drug use are down (although a third of the nation's teenagers still become involved in drugs). But as drug use in general has been falling, heavy and high-risk use of the most disabling substances has been rising. In 1990 more than 1 million Americans began using crack cocaine, and 1.2 million started using heroin.

Drug abuse now poses a greater threat to our society than ever before. High-risk use has risen most rapidly among our most vulnerable populations - the poor, the unemployed, the emotionally fragile, and the troubled young. It drives our most intractable social problems and is catalyst of social disorder.

In our inner cities today we find more than rage and alienation, battered notions of self-worth, and the early death of dreams. We also find rampant drug abuse that has eroded family influence, rendered communities incapable of arresting aberrant behavior, and made violence the vocabulary of youth.

Although drugs are clearly not the sole cause of the nation's social problems, there is not one of them we can hope to remedy without taking on drugs first. Job training will not lead to employment of young people whose sole goal is their next score. Better schools won't help kids who have dropped out or arrive high. And public housing does little to strengthen poor families when addicts prowl the projects and dealers rule them.

The tragedy is that we don't lack the capacity to prevent and cure drug abuse. We lack the will and the resources.

We can't win a war against drugs by fighting it on our borders or in the coca fields of Bolivia, Colombia, or Peru. It is in our schools, neighborhoods, and, most urgently, the blighted cores of our cities that we must take on drug abuse.

In recent years, new programs of prevention in schools and communities and the national campaign of the Partnership for a Drug Free America have helped millions of youngsters to make the right choice about drugs. But we haven't carried the fight to the inner city, where drug abuse is most pervasive and most pernicious. We aren't reaching youngsters most threatened by drugs.

Neither are we rescuing the hundreds of thousands of young people whose drug abuse we can treat and cure. The National Institute of Medicine estimates 5.5 million Americans are in need of drug-abuse treatment.

THESE men, women, and children lead lives of extraordinary disorder and danger; they require the intensive and comprehensive care that only long-term residential treatment can provide. Yet, when at least 100,000 long-term residential beds are needed, we have no more than 11,000 - a number that has hardly increased over the past four years. Each day, Phoenix House counselors in homeless shelters, prisons, high schools, and our residential treatment centers see scores of young people triumph over drugs. Th eir victories could be multiplied 100-fold were this nation to make a commitment to treatment.

It won't take any "new" federal dollars to make the necessary investment in treatment and prevention. There's more than $12 billion now budgeted for battling drugs, most of it for interdiction and enforcement. Rather, it will take the reallocation of these resources.

The benefits include savings in welfare, social services, health care, law enforcement, and corrections. The penalties, should we fail to act, include more crime and violence, more homelessness and child abuse, and the rapid spread of AIDS. We will see more social disorder, more urban decay, and a greater threat to social stability.

With so much to be gained and lost, drug abuse is an issue no candidate should be allowed to ignore.

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