Pubdate: Sun, 26 Mar 2000
Source: Hartford Courant (CT)
Copyright: 2000 The Hartford Courant
Author: Tom Condon


Four Trinity College seniors started with prescription drugs last
weekend, on a tragic binge that would leave one dead and another
almost dead. At some point, police think, they left campus to buy heroin.

Abuse of prescription drugs is a coming fad. Sadly, so is the use of
heroin. ``Heroin is making a big comeback,'' said Superior Court Judge
Jorge Simon. ``We're getting heroin cases from Marlborough, East
Hartford, Glastonbury.''

We've been fighting the war on drugs, the Vietnam of domestic policy,
for 25 years, and still, heroin is making a comeback. One might think
this would cause a review of how we're approaching the problem.

But, no, it hasn't. On Thursday, White House drug czar Gen. Barry
McCaffrey delivered his annual report on the nation's anti-drug
efforts. He conceded that heroin has become more popular among young
people, but still insisted ``substantial progress'' has been made in
the fight against illegal drugs.

His $18 billion budget for the 2000 fiscal year earmarks two-thirds of
the money for law enforcement, interdiction and other brilliant
strategies such as spraying herbicides on Central American farms.
One-third goes for treatment and education.

``For those who say this is a war, we're winning,'' McCaffrey

Look at the Trinity case, the drug-riddled Aquan Salmon case and at
more than 3,000 inmates in Connecticut prisons for drug crimes, and
Gen. McCaffrey sounds like Gen. Westmoreland. Eric E. Sterling,
president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, would agree.

``Gen. McCaffrey's scoreboard must be broken,'' Sterling said.
``Deaths are up, high school kids can get drugs more easily than ever,
drug use by junior high kids has tripled, drug prices are at historic
lows, drug purity is as high as ever and we still are not treating
most of the millions of addicts desperate for help.

``It's time to do something different,'' said Sterling, whose group
promotes innovative solutions to criminal justice problems.

Sterling views the war on drugs as a 25-year experiment that showed
prohibition wasn't the way to deal with the drug problem. So,
experiment with other approaches.

He might start with medical marijuana. Since pot is now outlawed, kids
see it as titillating and exciting. But what if it becomes associated
with people who are so sick that they're throwing up? Doesn't that
take away some of the glamour?

If heroin addicts were put on a clinical heroin maintenance program,
couldn't they be directed toward treatment and put their energy into
their jobs and families rather than stealing to buy drugs?

Sterling thinks binge drinking got out of control when the drinking
age was raised from 18 to 21. He'd reduce it again, even go to 16 for
beer and wine, and teach kids about alcohol.

There is a small step the Connecticut General Assembly can take that
will help Hartford. Five years ago, the state opened its first drug
court in New Haven. Nonviolent drug users are given an intensive
yearlong program of counseling and treatment. The program has a
remarkable 77 percent success record. Judge Simon ran it for three
years. ``It takes addicts who've been taking up too much space in
prisons, gives them treatment and lets them return to a productive

Adult drug courts also are open in Waterbury and Bridgeport and a drug
session for juveniles has begun in Hartford. State Rep. Art Feltman
has proposed an adult drug court for Hartford Superior Court. It's a
good step, but hopefully only a first step.

Tom has been a columnist at The Courant since 1985. Hewrites about
people and issues in Greater Hartford. You can e-mail Tom  ---
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