GOP must press War on Drugs
Richard "Doc" Rioux · November 24, 1996
During the presidential campaign, Republicans criticized Mr. Clinton for placing the War on Drugs in America on the back burner. With the use of illegal drugs on a sharp rise since 1991, Mr. Dole and Mr. Kemp had a legitimate issue which concerned most Americans anxious about drug use in junior and senior high schools.
But since the election, I haven't heard the problem of increasing drug use mentioned much again, and I don't think the problem has somehow disappeared. Each day, a thousand teen-agers start experimenting with illegal drugs, and their parents don't even have a clue that it's happening.
Teen-age drug use is a major public health menace that must be treated with the same intensity as tuberculosis, venereal disease and AIDS. If cancer research can demand billions in committed public funds, then why is it that prevention and treatment of drug addiction can't command the same level of commitment? Our children are dying and/or being incarcerated at an alarming rate because of apathy, stupidity, denial and the lack of a national will to rescue our young from illegal drug use. We must rid America of one of its worst-ever threats!
I am in receipt of a series of reports put out by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. The former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under Lyndon Johnson, Mr. Joseph Califano, is the head of CASA, and Nancy Reagan and Betty Ford serve on the board of directors. The reports deal with everything from strategies to deal with reducing global production to the cost of drug use to America's health care system. Some of the conclusions reached might startle you. Here are a few:
Most kids who drop out of school do so because of drug use. Nearly 80 percent of inmates in U.S. prisons are there for drug-related crimes. We can't build enough prisons to deal with the demand for them. The costs to our justice system in the last ten years runs into the trillions of dollars. We lose more young people to the drug war in one year than all the soldiers we lost during the war in Vietnam.
This is an outrage! Each week I attend graduations at the L.A. County Acton and Warm Springs Drug Treatment Centers. I listen to men and women in their 20s and 30s talk about the horrors of drug use. I also hear them express their hope that they can recover from their addiction and alcoholism. I hear them lament the fact that there aren't enough treatment centers available and that they don't get treatment in prison where most of them end up.
It costs four times more to keep addicts in prison than it does to place them in treatment centers where their chances of recovery are very good. One of the goals of treatment programs is to make taxpayers out of recovering addicts. Addicts go to prison to become better criminals. People in recovery go to work and pay taxes.
Please be clear that our entire nation is at risk of major dislocation because of the proliferation of illegal drug use. Our democracy is being threatened. We have raised three generations of drug abusers. I've said this before, but it's worth repeating: "If a foreign country invaded this land and began killing our young people by the thousands, we would declare a war. We would fight until total victory were achieved."
Well, we have been invaded, and our kids are being crippled and killed by the thousands each year because of access to illegal drugs. The rich, the middle class, the poor . . . there is no escape for anyone. We must act now. This is an issue of national security. We must spend money on education, prevention and treatment. The plague of drugs will not go away on its own. Republicans in Congress must work with Mr. Clinton to make the War on Drugs this country's number-one priority.
Dr. Richard Rioux is a resident of Stevenson Ranch. His commentary appears on Sundays.
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