07/13/2000

Drugs: Prices fall as the death toll climbs

If success in the war on drugs is measured in the number of individuals incarcerated for drug crimes, then it has been a big success. But when measured by drug-related deaths, such as an overdose, or by the prices of the most destructive drugs, the results are less impressive.According to a White House report, drug deaths reached a peak of 15,973 in 1997, the last year for which statistics are available. Part of the reason for the high number of deaths has to do with the fact that heroin and cocaine users were able to buy their drugs of choice at the lowest prices in two decades. Making matters worse, the purity of the cocaine and heroin coming into the country is at an all-time high.Other aspects of the report contain more optimistic statistics, including drops in drug-related violence and a growing anti-marijuana attitude among young people. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey tried to highlight the good news and downplay the bad. He did respond to critics of a criminal justice approach to the drug problem by saying that treatment facilities for individuals who want to stop using are in scarce supply.According to the report about, 5 million Americans could have used immediate support in terms of drug treatment or counseling, but only 2.1 million actually received it. McCaffrey is on record as having said that he does not think we can ?arrest our way? to victory in the drug war.Despite those admissions, the former U.S. Army general has pursued an interdiction-oriented approach and has lobbied Congress for millions in military aid to help Colombia seek out and destroy production sites. In the report, McCaffrey says the priorities are a youth anti-drug media campaign and treatment, in that order.

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