Pubdate: Sat, 30 Dec 2000
Source: Northwest Florida Daily News (FL)
Copyright: 2000 Northwest Florida Daily News
Note: Headline by MAP editor.


Barry McCaffrey is wrapping up his nearly five-year tenure as President
Clinton's drug policy adviser with a bang. His parting shot this summer was
to mastermind and successfully lobby Congress for approval of a $1.3 billion
aid package to Colombia, most of it for weapons to fight guerrillas involved
in the drug trade.

Now there is, belatedly, some recognition in Congress that Plan Colombia has
potential for disaster. There is second-guessing about pouring money into
the Colombian military, which has been linked to human rights abuses. There
is recognition that a military response in Colombia may push the drug trade
to neighboring nations and destabilize them.

Plan Colombia is emblematic of Mr. McCaffrey's guns-and-bullets approach to
illicit drugs, even though it's a tactic that has not made much headway at
home and is not likely to fare any better in Colombia.

What the United States needs instead are innovative strategies based on
science and medicine rather than politics and military might. That's what
the next president ought to expect from Mr. McCaffrey's successor.

Mr. McCaffrey, to his credit, has talked up the importance of treatment and
other demand-reduction strategies.

But his proposed $19.5 billion budget for 2001 continues to pump twice as
much money into law enforcement and interdiction as it does into treatment
and prevention.

During his tenure, Mr. McCaffrey has fought even relatively modest changes
in drug policies with an inquisitorial zeal - science and facts be damned.

A 1998 study by the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed what
many other scientists already had established: Needle-exchange programs
effectively limit transmission of the AIDS virus among intravenous drug
users, their partners and their babies, with little risk of increased drug
use. Yet Mr. McCaffrey successfully led the charge against federal funding
of needle exchanges.

Likewise, he has battled against state initiatives to allow medicinal uses
of marijuana, again disregarding scientific studies and public opinion.

Mr. McCaffrey's most cavalier disregard for the truth came when he traveled
to Europe in 1998, supposedly on a "fact finding" tour of countries with
liberalized drug policies. When he returned, he blasted the Netherlands as a
nest of crime fueled by illegal drugs - a diatribe that had no basis in
fact. Yet the nation's drug czar offered no retraction.

Mr. McCaffrey will leave his post Jan. 6. It will be important for his
successor to recognize that, yes, drug addiction is a serious problem. But
the nation needs to combat it with science, common sense and compassion, not
with empty rhetoric or the failed policies of the past.
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