US Drug Policy: A Failure?
Gen. Barry McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, must be commended for his frankness on the severity of the drug problem in this country in his opinion-page article, "Stopping the Flow of Drugs," Sept. 13. He advocates programs aimed at knocking the profit out of the drug-trafficking business at the source of supply. While the administration must concentrate on issues of supply and demand, it does not recognize that poverty in Latin America - not some evil desire to infect American society with drugs - is the main reason behind the production of drugs. Clearly, destroying drug crops is a Band-Aid solution that does not address the realities of economic survival for millions of Latin Americans.
While military operations consume more than 60 percent of the international drug-control budget, alternative programs which provide economic opportunities to local farmers have taken a budgetary beating. Money that once went to successful micro-enterprising programs will be directed toward short-term policies that punish the poor farmer, not the wealthy supplier.
The author calls for compassion in developing an effective solution to America's drug problem. The recent trend toward budgetary isolation is about the least compassionate action possible, both to our neighbors to the south and to Americans.
National Council for International Health
The author states that each year "20,000 Americans suffer drug-related deaths." By my calculations, it is at least half a million. The annual death toll from tobacco is more than 400,000, and that from alcohol more than 100,000.
Our drug policy is at best inconsistent, at worst hypocritical. I doubt that Americans would even be willing to give up pool cleaners (which can be used in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine). Yet we ruthlessly engage in a war to eradicate coca in South America - a war that kills peasants as well as drug dealers, and threatens cultures that, like it or not, have used coca leaves for thousands of years. To add to the irony, clinically speaking, coca leaves, either chewed or consumed as tea, are less harmful than tobacco.
Imagine how much safer our streets would be if our antidrug resources were concentrated on rehabilitation, and our police power on personal and property crime.
The article calls for a "comprehensive counterdrug strategy" utilizing "prevention, education, treatment, enforcement, and interdiction." This is the same thing Lee Brown and William Bennett said when they became drug czar, as did Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Nixon when they described their policy.
We have been trying the author's strategy for years. It doesn't work. More of the same will not change the fact that it is wrong. Continuing along the same path is costly, not just in money, but in the health of our nation.
The truth is that drug policy needs a complete reevaluation. This presidential election year's use of the drug war as a political football demonstrates that our political leaders are incapable of dealing with drug issues sensibly. We need to appoint a blue-ribbon panel with the power to put in place new drug strategies in order to remove this issue from the political playground and allow the United States to begin to take drugs seriously.
Falls Church, Va.
President, Common Sense for Drug Policy
It has been said that the latest round of drug-war rhetoric is political. Anyone who takes the time to research the war on drugs will find that it has always been about politics. It is time for the public to speak out against this continued waste of time, money, and lives. It is time to call for an end to the war on drugs. We must explore alternatives.
Drug Policy Forum of Texas
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