Pubdate: Sat, 11 Jun 2011
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2011 Sun-Times Media, LLC
Author: Peter Bensinger
Note: Peter Bensinger was administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administrationfrom 1976-1981 and director of the Illinois Department
of Corrections from 1970-1973.


Jesse Jackson's recent column "on a failed war on drugs" demands a 
rebuttal based on science and the facts. Rev. Jackson, to his credit, 
has preached against using drugs, but his conclusion that the drug 
control effort has been wasted is dead wrong.

In fact, in 1978, 25 million Americans used an illegal drug once a 
month, when our population was 280 million. In 2009, there were 21 
million illegal drug users, a decrease of 20 percent. Since when is a 
20 percent decrease a failure?

Ninety-two percent of Americans do not use illegal drugs. Drugs are 
not as available as they were 40 years ago, and fewer people are 
dying of heroin overdose deaths.

I know because from 1976 to 1981, I was administrator of the U.S. 
Drug Enforcement Administration. In 1976, we had more than 500,000 
heroin addicts and over 2,000 heroin overdose deaths. This has 
decreased significantly; currently there are 200,000 heroin users, 
less than half the number of 35 years ago and half the heroin overdose deaths.

Our prisons are overcrowded; not because casual users of marijuana 
are in prison. Less than 1 percent of all inmates in state prisons 
are there because of the use or possession of marijuana. They are in 
prison because of other charges, some involving drugs but for sale or 
trafficking. They are also there because we do not have enough drug 
courts, which have recidivism rates of 16 percent compared to 45 
percent for offenders not in those programs. They are in prison 
because we have a probation system that is ineffective and because we 
tolerate a high crime rate and have more gun dealers than gas stations.

Drugs are addictive, cause impairment with work, learning, 
co-ordination, short-term memory, and long-term health. Legalize 
cocaine and crack, which cause rapid heart rate, arrhythmia and three 
overdose deaths a day? Legalize marijuana, which contain 468 
different chemicals and 60 percent more cancer-causing agents than a 
cigarette and is particularly harmful for brain development in 
adolescents? Drugged driver fatalities are three times higher in 
states with medical marijuana.

The effort to control drugs is not solely a law enforcement 
responsibility. It requires greater efforts by parents, more 
resources in prevention and treatment and effective diversion 
programs, which Rev. Jackson recognizes. Chicago's St. Patricks High 
School has implemented a mandatory random testing program for all 
students, not just athletes. The result is higher graduation rates, 
better attendance, higher college admissions and fewer disciplinary 
problems than other comparable schools.

Not all efforts involve taxpayer money. The private sector has driven 
down drug use in the workplace dramatically, not by avoiding the 
issue but with clear drug abuse policies, education, drug testing and 
employee assistance programs. Productivity rates have risen significantly.

The federal government has invested time and money and lives in 
fighting drug abuse, but the social costs for treatment, lost 
productivity, accidents and crime are 10 times higher. In fact, this 
year's federal drug enforcement budget is the same as the cost of one 
Aegis Cruiser for the Navy. Drug abuse is a public health problem, 
but removing criminal sanctions will open the floodgates of use and 
abuse. Use of illegal drugs is lower by 20 percent from 30 years ago. 
We need to do more in prevention and treatment, including having Rev. 
Jackson preach about the dangers of drug abuse without giving up on 
our commitment to prevent it.
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