Clinton Shifts Course on Drugs, But GOP Has Its Own Compass
President stresses treatment, while others want to get tough
WASHINGTON — THE Clinton administration wants to shift tactics in the nation's war on drugs, putting more emphasis on treatment while asking for more money.
This week, the White House sought a record $14.3 billion for drug control and prevention. Its approach will surely be challenged, though, when the administration's drug-fighting official, Lee Brown, goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday.
Mr. Brown will argue for new treatment programs, part of $1.3 billion in new funds sought, and defend what majority Republicans have called an ineffective drug policy. GOP leaders feel the White House is vulnerable on the issue. They cite studies showing an increase in casual drug use among teens. Overall drug statistics, however, show a steady decrease in use between 1979 and 1992 that experts say is unrelated to federal efforts.
``Last year the administration made the mistake of trying to declare victory on drugs,'' says one Justice Department source. ``This year they acknowledge it as a difficult and intractable problem.''
The new plan continues to spend 2 out of every 3 dollars to stop drugs from entering the United States. But there is a new emphasis on the link between crime and drugs: treatment for those in the criminal-justice system where drug use is rampant and more police on the street. Some 60 percent of cocaine users, for example, are on parole or probation.
The strategy is already in jeopardy. Senate Republicans are skeptical of treatment efforts. Moreover, new GOP crime legislation pending before the House would eliminate central aspects of the program - ``drug courts'' that treat individuals who are awaiting trial and money earmarked for 100,000 new police - in favor of block grants. (Block grants can be used to fund new police or treatment if local authorities so choose.)
Senate Judiciary Committee chair Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah says he is ``troubled'' that the administration has not had a ``full'' drug strategy. Senator Hatch questions the emphasis on hard-core use. Sen. Connie Mack (R) of Florida has called for more spending on drug interdiction at the border.
Recent studies show casual use of drugs is inching back up. Brown said this week that marijuana use was up among adolescents. He also called an increase in heroin use ``alarming.'' Use of ``crack'' cocaine, the premier drug of the 1980s, has leveled off, he added.
The latest differences point up a longstanding divide in America over how to approach the drug problem. Two successive Republican administrations made drugs a priority, culminating in the appointment of a cabinet-level ``drug czar,'' former Secretary of Education William Bennett. Among other things, Mr. Bennett used the office as a bully pulpit to expand public awareness of the problem.
Harvard University Prof. Mark Kleinman, who advised both the Bush and Clinton admininistrations, faults the Bennett strategy for linking casual use, which was in decline, to hard-core use, which he defines as the real problem. ``It was a wonderful strategy for a problem we didn't have,'' he says.
Street-level counselors and religious thinkers contacted by the Monitor say drug use is often related to spiritual problems. They say treatment programs help only at the margins. Claude McInnis, a counselor at the Hinds County Youth Court in Jackson, Miss., says since the turn of the century, Americans have increased their use of drugs as a way, however misguided, to fulfill some deeper need all people have. ``Alcohol used to be the main drug,'' he says. ``The St. Valentine's Day massacre in Chicago was a drug deal gone bad.
Stanley Hauerwas, a professor at the Duke University divinity school, says that drugs are often used to fill a spiritual vacuum. ``Many people are literally dying from the pain of recognition that they don't matter,'' he says. ``Drugs seem to provide an escape. Our modern liberal social order tends to produce people who are lonely but have learned to call it freedom.''
Jim Wallis, a minister at a church here, says the drug war has tended to focus on ``symptoms rather than causes.'' American culture has become an addictive culture because of its emphasis on materialism and consumerism. ``Shopping doesn't satisfy the human heart. The poor don't shop; they take drugs,'' he says. ``We need treatment. But we also need serious economic and spiritual alternatives.''