Youths already hear that drugs are fun

June 14, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

LET'S SEE now. We've got jails bursting at the seams, most of the folks in them there for a drug-related crime, 34,000 heroin addicts in Baltimore alone, and still some folks in responsible positions worrying that a heroin maintenance program will send a "wrong message."

On Wednesday, this paper reported that professors at the Johns Hopkins University were proposing a research study -- a research study, mind you -- on the feasibility of running a heroin maintenance program in Baltimore. Dr. Peter Beilenson, the health commissioner for the city, said he supported the idea and added ever so carefully and clearly that it would not be a city

program, that no city money would be used and that the study would be done by Hopkins.

Beilenson's cautionary words went for naught. The reaction was swift and knee-jerk.

"It doesn't make any sense," Gov. Parris Glendening moaned in an article Friday by Sun reporters Scott Shane and Gerard Shields. "It sends totally the wrong signal."

City Council President Lawrence Bell suggested that Baltimore might become the "city that nods" instead of the "city that reads."

According to our own statistics, some 34,000 Baltimoreans are already nodding. That didn't keep Beilenson and Mayor Kurt Schmoke -- the only two government officials in town who've shown any guts in proposing alternatives to what has laughingly been called the "war on drugs" -- from backpedaling faster than Muhammad Ali during one of those classic fights with Joe Frazier. No one in city government will even talk about heroin

maintenance now, according to the mayor.

This would have been an ideal time for the mayor to openly challenge the governor on this issue. Schmoke should have asked Glendening if he's not for heroin maintenance, exactly what program to reduce drug use is he for? Does the governor really believe that Maryland State Police disproportionately stopping black motorists along Interstate 95 "makes sense" and sends a signal that is somehow hunky-dory?

Absent in all the wailing over what we should do about drugs -- legalize them, decriminalize them, send drug users and dealers to jail with harsher penalties -- is the effect the "drug war" (ha, ha) is having on civil liberties. The American Civil Liberties Union -- God, how I hate agreeing with those people! -- says it's already happening along I-95. More than one family has called me protesting that police have kicked in their doors on drug raids and found neither drugs nor drug users.

Mistakes are made in the drug war, but not at the homes of politicians. Seeing no threat to civil liberties, our government leaders have no qualms about conducting business as usual in the (ha, ha) drug war. They spend their worry-free moments wondering what message we send our youths when we talk about making drugs available to drug addicts.

It's odd that such concerns about mixed messages don't include what message we send by stubbornly and blindly sticking to a drug war (hee, hee) that has clearly failed. But the message that drugs are good is already being sent. It's being sent daily. It's being sent so subtly and insidiously that our government honchos haven't picked up on it yet.

The message is sent through those good old booze commercials, which tell our youth at very tender ages that drinking is fun. Once that message gets in a child's subconscious, the damage is done. If drinking is fun, it stands to reason that the more you drink, the more fun you have. And if drinking more gets you high, then getting high is fun.

By the time a kid gets to be a teen-ager, he sees the hypocrisy of LTC his elders. Alcohol, not heroin, is the most serious drug problem in the country. Consuming alcohol, the teen is told, is fun. But consuming other drugs is harmful. We feed them this contradictory nonsense and then have the nerve to wonder why they turn to drugs. Maybe the drugs help them tune out the sounds of our own bat guano.

What message will we send our youth with a heroin maintenance program? That depends on how we send it. I hope -- although I'm certainly not sure, considering how greedy some folks can get in this country -- that we wouldn't promote heroin use the way we've elevated booze drinking to a national pastime. But if we see a bunch of frogs and lizards on our television screens croaking "HE-RO-IN," we'll know we've done something wrong.

Pub Date: 6/14/98

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