There are two ways to combat drug abuse in the United States: The federal government can make a show of talking and acting tough, or it can actually try to accomplish something -- by balancing efforts to crack down on drug suppliers with better treatment for the people who actually buy drugs.
John Walters, touted by Bush administration officials as the nation's next drug czar, will have to choose between the two approaches if he is confirmed for the post. But to judge from some of his past comments, he seems to favor the wrong one: an emphasis on law enforcement alone. ...
Granted, it is important to try to stem the flow of narcotics into the United States and catch drug traffickers within the nation's borders. The imprisonment of so many drug criminals during the 1990s, many experts say, is part of the reason why crime dropped so precipitously during the second half of the decade.
Moreover, reducing the availability of drugs and driving up their prices might well force some drug users onto the wagon sooner rather than later.
But it is hard to believe that the threat of criminal sanctions -- or knowledge of the health risks -- will prompt heroin, cocaine and other hard-drug users to kick their habits. And as long as there are millions of Americans who cannot fight their addictions, there will be a lucrative drug trade. If drugs can find their way into nation's prisons -- and by all accounts they do -- they can certainly penetrate thousands of miles of coastlines and porous international borders.
One has to question why, as a nation, we are so eager to crack down on drug producers in other countries but so reluctant to offer much besides jail time to the Americans who are actually using drugs.
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