Pubdate: Thu, 29 Jun 2006
Source: Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
Copyright: 2006 The Commercial Appeal
Author: Robert Weiner, Virginia Wattiker
Note: Robert Weiner was spokesman and director of public affairs for
the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 1995 to
2001. Virginia Wattiker is a drug policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates.


This month the FBI reported the highest one-year increase in violent
crime rates in 15 years -- back to the frightening situation which
challenged the Clinton administration in its first year. Memphis'
violent crime rate jumped 25 percent between 2004 and 2005, with the
number of reported murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults
growing from 10,093 to 12,630.

But the FBI's analysis of its crime figures and media reports
neglected the clear connection between drugs and crime. The current
administration's overall anti-drug budget has been slashed by over
one-third from $19.2 billion in 2001 to $12.7 billion for 2007. This
reduced budget for the federal government's comprehensive
drug-fighting initiatives -- including education, prevention and
treatment programs as well as enforcement efforts -- is a genuine
threat to our national security.

While the war in Iraq and homeland security issues have dominated the
headlines, federal budget cuts have downsized anti-drug efforts in
favor of increases in military funding to some $500 billion annually,
including $41 billion this year for the new Homeland Security
Department. In 1997 the White House Office of National Drug Control
Policy launched the National Youth Anti-drug Campaign, a five-year, $1
billion multimedia advertising program that committed roughly $200
million a year to persuade America's youth not to use drugs and
encourage parents to talk more with their children about drugs. With
bipartisan support (House Speaker Newt Gingrich joined the Clinton
team in announcing the initiative), ads were run seven times a week,
hitting 94 percent of the program's target audience. Gingrich called
the media campaign part of a "World War II-style, all-out plan for
victory" against drug abuse.

The numbers bear out the effectiveness of the campaign: Teen drug use
fell 34 percent during the last three years of the Clinton
administration (1997-2000).

Apparently, the current head of the White House Office of National
Drug Control Policy has a less enthusiastic approach to maintaining
the priority of the effort against drugs -- the administration has
sliced the media campaign in half to $99 million annually. At the same
time, the rate of decline in youth drug use has slowed to 19 percent
in the three years from 2002 to 2005 -- far less than the reduction in
Clinton's last three years.

The violent crimes reported nationally last year included about 16,900
murders , a 4.8 percent increase over 2004 and the highest percentage
increase in 15 years. This rise in crime can be at least partially
attributed to these drastic cuts in our drug budget.

Dr. Nora Volkow, the brilliant director of the National Institute on
Drug Abuse, reported just this past April, "A majority of current and
former prisoners -- 60-80 percent -- in the nation's criminal justice
system were convicted on drug related charges: possession,
trafficking, crimes committed while under the influence of drugs, or
committed to support an addiction." In addition, according to the U.S.
Justice Department's "Drug Use and Crime" fact sheet, 68 percent of
female arrestees and 67 percent of male arrestees tested positive in
urine tests for illegal drugs -- cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine,
opiates or PCP -- compared to 6 percent drug use in the population as
a whole. The link between drugs and crime is irrefutable.

In 2001 the government devoted $19.2 billion to anti-drug spending.
With annual decreases each year since then, that figure has been cut
to $12.7 billion.

The administration also has proposed cancellation of the "Safe and
Drug Free Schools and Communities" state grant program -- integral in
education and prevention of drug use in our nation's school systems.
Administration officials are asking to move oversight of the 30-city
High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program out of the White House
(including the Appalachian HIDTA, which includes parts of Tennessee)
and have proposed reducing its funds by over half (to $100 million
from the $227 million approved by Congress). They also have pushed for
near deletion of the science-based Counter Drug Technology program,
which provides equipment to local law enforcement departments; they
asked Congress to cut its funding from $30 million to $10 million last
year. (Funding now stands at $20 million, down from $40 million in

With the war on terror using up our money, the fight against drugs has
taken an unfortunate back seat.

An estimated 19.1 million individuals in the United States have abused
drugs during the past month, according to the Department of Health and
Human Services. This is an extremely serious problem that contributes
to an estimated 17,000 deaths a year, on top of the associated crime.
Continuing to take money from counter-drug programs will be as deadly
to our society as failing to fund prevention of a terrorist attack.

Robert Weiner was spokesman and director of public affairs for the
White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 1995 to 2001.
Virginia Wattiker is a drug policy analyst at Robert Weiner
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