Pubdate: Mon, 27 Jul 1998 Date: 07/27/1998 Source: Irish Times (Ireland) Author: Martin Cooke Sir, - As reports come in that the country's problem with heroin and other dangerous drugs is beginning to be felt in provincial towns and rural villages, one must wonder just what can be done to stop our young people from starting to use these dangerous substances. Earlier this month in the United States, the Office of National Drug Control Policy announced a $2 billion anti-drug media campaign. At the ceremony heralding its launch in Atlanta, President Clinton told students, "These ads are designed to knock America upside its head and get America's attention." Meanwhile in Britain, Home Office spending on anti-drug education has just been increased by 188 million in a much-trumpeted strategy to educate schoolchildren as young as five years of age about the dangers of drugs. While such strategies may make parents feel that at least their governments are doing something to tackle the problem, they are likely to cause more harm than good in the long run, if only because of the natural tendency of young people to ignore or even actively oppose the threats and moralising of their parents' generation. But the very fact that we should even need to consider committing such vast sums of public money raises a larger and far more important question: Just why are these dangerous substances so far outside the control of responsible society that we cannot keep them out of the hands of our children? The answer is that drug prohibition has failed our children, and failed them spectacularly. Drug prohibition, far from being a form of drug control, is nothing more than the surrendering of the control of these dangerous and addictive substances into the hands of criminals. These so-called "controlled substances" are, in reality, completely outside any form of control whatsoever. The whole root of the problem lies in the very fact that these drugs are illegal in the first place. This very illegality gives them a value far above their true cost. Indeed, they have become so valuable that, as we have seen in Ireland time and time again over the past 20 years or so, all attempts to incarcerate the criminals involved in their distribution only result in other greedy individuals stepping in to fill the void that is created. In June last year the United Nations estimated the total world trade in illegal narcotics at $400 billion annually. This equates to 8 per cent of the total legal trade in the world, and outstrips even the automobile industry. The UN convened a special session in June this year devoted to the drug problem. Before this session even met, over 1,000 concerned persons from all around the world signed an open letter to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, which included the following: "We believe that the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself." Irish signatories to this letter included Ivana Bacik, Reid Professor of Criminal Law at TCD; Vincent Browne, journalist and lawyer; Tim Murphy, lecturer in Law at UCC; Daire O'Brien, editor of Himself magazine; Niall Stokes, editor of Hot Press and chairman of the Independent Radio and Television Commission; and Olaf Tyaransen, writer and journalist. These dissenters from all around the world are neither "devious" nor motivated by some concern to see the drug problem in their countries get worse, especially as it relates to children. They simply understand that drug prohibition has not protected our children, no more than alcohol prohibition protected American children in the 1920s. Prohibition does not work. Prohibition never has worked. Prohibition never will work. And until the world wakes up to this fact we will continue to see the lives of more and more of our children destroyed by its effects. - Yours, etc., MARTIN COOKE, Corcormick, Drumkeerin, Co Leitrim.