Drugs: Disarray and Dismay

February 17, 1992

Disarray in federal drug policy is dismaying, when the violence and human waste of drug abuse are plain for all to see. Instead of turf wars between federal agencies and disputes between the White House and Pentagon over the proper role of military power, the country needs leadership.

There are serious questions about involving U.S. military personnel in police work, to be sure. It is one thing to use Navy ships to haul Coast Guard law-enforcement detachments to halt drugs at sea and Air Force planes to help Drug Enforcement Administration agents bring down drug transports. Putting troops into the Andean heights is quite another.

Not only does it put U.S. forces into the middle of ongoing conflicts between Andean governments and such elements as Peru's Shining Path irregulars, it raises deadly dangers of corruption in the ranks. Few U.S. military servicemen and women have the training and mindset of police officers and, indeed, the U.S. Constitution does not contemplate their use as such.

More fundamental questions have to do with the overall strategy for President Bush's drug war. Use of the White House bully pulpit to display the nation's repugnance to drugs is fine, but the hard work of crafting effective measures to fight illicit drugs still awaits the president's energy.

A high priority must go to increased education and drug prevention. Health and Human Services surveys continue to show drug abuse among school-aged children decreasing. And last month's National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found instances of use of any illegal drug in the previous month had fallen from 14.5 million in 1988 to 12.6 million last year. Note that bottom-line number; it's still huge. No wonder so many drug sellers are still out there, poisoning the heart of cities like Baltimore. It's apparent that treatment of those already addicted must also get a new priority.

"Weed and Seed," a $500-million program Mr. Bush announced to religious broadcasters, sounds good in principle. But local police across the country need very specific kinds of help to catch the increasingly sophisticated traffickers they face in their communties.

And the money announced should be just the beginning for the "seeds" in Mr. Bush's program. It will take major funding to support the educational help, job-training and economic development required to offset the lure of drug money for an inner-city generation painfully aware of its abandonment by the legitimate economy. The small grants announced thus far cannot cover the bills due.

A House of Representatives report even says the gains Mr. Bush touts have stalled, after 10 years' progress. One thing is clear: No amount of public-relations work by the White House will solve the problem of drugs. It's time to get down to the trenches.

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