Pubdate: Wed, 30 Mar 2005
Source: Huntsville Times (AL)
Copyright: 2005 The Huntsville Times
Author: David Prather
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)


Then-Huntsville Police Chief Compton Owens was the first law enforcement 
official I heard disavow the phrase "war on drugs."

"We (police) don't make war on our own folks," he told me in October 1999.

Perhaps others have since joined Owens in decrying the phrase - not for the 
enlightened reason Owens gave, but because if this is a "war," it's one 
we're losing. Compare it to the invasion of Iraq: We've landed on the 
peninsula, but we don't have the arms, the personnel or a good plan on how 
to march on Baghdad.

Item: Last week two Jackson County people were charged with having cocaine. 
Arresting officers said they just got lucky. The proliferation of 
do-it-yourself methamphetamine laboratories has drug task forces stretched 
beyond their limits. The agents, an officer told a TV reporter, don't have 
the manpower to go after dealers in other drugs.

Item: Deborah Soule and the Partnership for a Drug Free Community are 
holding a workshop today from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the SAIC Conference 
Facility, 6725 Odyssey Drive, to tell local merchants how they can try to 
stem the meth tide by watching for people who purchase large quantities of 
sinus and cold medication, lye, matches and Coleman fuel.

Good luck, Deborah, because the same article quotes a local drug task force 
member as saying the sales and service of meth dealers in this area - 
despite a great deal of work by a great many people - are "not slowing down 
at all."

Item: Check out last week's edition of Time magazine. An article shows how 
the prescription anti-pain drug OxyContin has become the scourge of rural 
Tazewell, Va. If you think the drug problem doesn't have social and 
economic components, as well as imposing tremendous financial hardship on 
taxpayers to try to make their communities safe again, this article should 
change your mind.

Item: Alabama's prisons are in such a mess that experts estimate it will 
take about $1 billion more than we have to spend to fix them. Official 
statistics show that 43 percent of the folks in our overcrowded prisons are 
serving drug sentences. Some of those sentences are longer than those 
imposed on sexual predators.

Our conventional wisdom says strict enforcement and harsh punishment will 
root out drug abuse and the crimes and wasted lives it fosters. The 
evidence before us, though, shows us the conventional wisdom is hogwash. 
For example, folks like to talk about Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., 
the self-styled "toughest sheriff" in the nation as the answer to crime 
problems. What they don't say, though, is that, according to independent 
investigators, Arpaio's clearance record when it comes to crime isn't that hot.

No, this is an issue that - as much as many of us want to deny it - can't 
be solved by law enforcement alone. But the kind of intervention and social 
reforms that might help are expensive. And they demand that we really mean 
it when we call the agency the "Department of Corrections." It can't just 
be the "Department of Punishment."

Of course, we can keep going the way we're going and the drug problem is 
going to maintain its grip, if not escalate.

Or to put it in military terms, we can keep fighting what is the equivalent 
of World War I - a ghastly, heartbreaking, interminable debacle that 
virtually wiped out a generation because of blunders, miscalculations and a 
lack of good sense.

It's up to us. But, first, we must face the issue. Right now, we're just 
hoping it will go away.
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