Pubdate: Mon, 15 Aug 2005
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2005 Asheville Citizen-Times


At first blush, it sounds like an effort to reinvent the wheel that has 
been known for decades as the "war on drugs."

At second blush, it's understandable to have a desire to utter a deep sigh 
when you hear there's another commission being formed to attempt to solve 
the Rubik's Cube that "war" represents.

But when you look a little deeper, the effort being spearheaded by 
Asheville Vice Mayor Carl Mumpower appears ... different. A different 
approach, a comprehensive set of players and a realistic view of the scope 
of what's at stake.

Look a little deeper, and what you find is a flicker of hope. What you 
conclude is that this approach could actually work.

The idea is not a new one for Mumpower, who suggested a mayor's commission 
to tackle drug issues last year. Last week, saying it was "time to start 
work," he announced the Asheville Drug Commission, an ambitious project 
pulling together players from the community - educators, justice officials, 
social service workers and church officials, to name a few groups - in an 
effort to address the drug problem.

The list of commission members is impressive. It includes Gene Bell of the 
Asheville Housing Authority, Police Chief Chief Bill Hogan, Buncombe County 
Sheriff Bobby Medford, Bob Smith of the Asheville-Buncombe Community 
Relations Council, Citizen-Times' President and Publisher Virgil Smith, 
YMCA Director Paul Vest and Dr. Buddy Corbin of Calvary Baptist Church, to 
name just a few.

Mumpower says the push is based on addressing root problems: "I came to 
believe that if we couldn't succeed with drugs, we couldn't move forward 
with other things we need to do."

What holds promise is that it isn't just another effort going down the same 
road. Bell said, "Historically, we've gone with the police, and then we've 
gone with community education and nothing has worked because we haven't 
tried using all these approaches simultaneously. That's what we'll be able 
to do with this commission. ... I think we'll see a change in the coming 
year." Dr. Corbin acknowledged the scope of the challenge, saying, "I've 
never known of anyone who's had much success dealing with it. But most deal 
with it through enforcement. It's a complex problem, and the solutions will 
be complex."

Indeed, those looking for a "silver bullet" solution in the commission will 
just have to look elsewhere. The commission's mission statement is to 
"Focus, learn and act on the causes, sources and impacts of hard drugs on 
Asheville and our neighbors..." It outlines initial target areas such as 
accessibility to treatment, enforcement, adjudication, social interventions 
and local state and national policy.

It focuses on hard drugs, and thorny problems like the need for "social 
detox," coordinating communication and intelligence between law enforcement 
agencies and repeated abuse of community/health resources by habitual 
hard-drug users.

But the commission has a clear-eyed view of the problem and what is at 
stake. Drugs are estimated to be a factor in four-fifths of crimes here, 
are an unfortunate root cause of much of the child abuse that occurs here 
and are a steady and significant drain on the resources of the area.

None of that is news. None of that is new. And precisely because of that - 
the fact that the crime, the drain, the impact on families and community - 
has become a tragic new status quo, it's obvious a different approach is 
called for.

Will the Asheville Drug Commission work?

We do not have a crystal ball and can't answer that question.

But this we do know: The stakes are high. The "war" has become a quagmire 
that is taking communities and generations down it. To not at least try 
another crack at solving this puzzle is inexcusable.

The formation of the Asheville Drug Commission holds hope.

At the very least, that's more than we've had of late, and reason enough to 
applaud and support this effort.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom