How to end Amer­ica’s drug cri­sis

A stronger ap­proach is needed to elim­i­nate the 47,000 an­nual drug deaths

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Robert Charles Robert Charles is a for­mer as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of State for in­ter­na­tional nar­cotics and law en­force­ment.

As Pres­i­dent Trump pre­pares to con­front mul­ti­ple crises, in­clud­ing na­tional se­cu­rity, for­eign pol­icy, and im­mi­gra­tion, an­other cri­sis looms. It kills tens of thou­sands of young Amer­i­cans an­nu­ally, in­flict­ing un­par­al­leled suf­fer­ing on Amer­i­can fam­i­lies. Amer­ica has never — un­der­score, never — faced the kind of drug abuse and drug crime epi­demic we con­front to­day. The cri­sis is a hur­ri­cane — lead­er­ship now crit­i­cal.

Numbers are breath­tak­ing. Last year 47,055 Amer­i­cans died of over­does, dou­ble the num­ber from 10 years ago. Of these, 10,000-plus were heroin deaths, up from 2,000. Ben­zo­di­azepine deaths jumped five-fold, killing 8,000. Opi­oid pain re­liev­ers tripled, killing 18,000. Mar­i­juana use sky­rock­eted un­der Pres­i­dent Obama, up 27 per­cent among kids, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Drug Abuse. Phoenix House re­ports that up to 50 per­cent be­come ad­dicted. In 2014, 10 mil­lion peo­ple drove drug-im­paired, and 20 per­cent of driv­ing deaths were drug-re­lated, not al­co­hol. Most com­mon? Mar­i­juana, up 47 per­cent in crashes be­tween 2007 and 2014. To­day, 80 per­cent of men ar­rested for crime in ma­jor cities are on drugs. Of those, 60 per­cent are us­ing mar­i­juana.

As night fol­lows day, vi­o­lent and prop­erty crime fol­lows drug use, avail­abil­ity and ad­dic­tion. One 2016 study con­cluded, af­ter over­lay­ing Mex­i­can drug car­tel pres­ence, heroin use and homi­cides, “There is in­deed a trou­bling sta­tis­ti­cal as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween in­creas­ing homi­cide rates and … com­pet­ing [drug] car­tels.” Any sur­prise that Chicago has 700 homi­cides this year? Na­tion­wide, in­con­tro­vert­ible trends do not lie.

Our fu­ture as a peo­ple de­pends on lead­er­ship and re­solve to re­verse the na­tion’s ram­pant drug cri­sis. Causes are many, some painful to ad­mit, but so­lu­tions ex­ist. We must stop shame­less pro­mo­tion of drug abuse through “le­gal­iza­tion,” mass re­leases of drug traf­fick­ing felons, dis­re­spect for law en­force­ment. “Recre­ation” is run­ning — not drugs. Ab­sur­di­ties have to stop. Lead­ers who poke per­verse fun at widen­ing drug abuse, im­plic­itly promoting it, re­fus­ing to en­force fed­eral laws against it, ad­vanc­ing the nar­ra­tive that drug traf­fick­ing felons are harm­less — are off track. That fantasy must stop.

To­day’s facts on drug abuse, over­doses, traf­fick­ing, drugged driv­ing, emer­gency room ad­mis­sions, dis­re­spect for law en­force­ment — are ar­rest­ing. They are tan­ta­mount to pine boxes re­turn­ing to in­con­solable fam­i­lies from South­east Asia. Nearly 100,000 par­ents lose their chil­dren to drugs an­nu­ally. Does that make any sense? Los­ing a life that once de­fined the family — to causes pre­ventable, treat­able, en­trap­ping and in­de­fen­si­ble? This is a na­tional tragedy. Make no mistake — we own it. We are a na­tion of break­ing hearts with in­cal­cu­la­ble grief.

The way out? Caring par­ents, teach­ers, clergy and law en­force­ment. Ex­am­ples like Nancy and Ronald Rea­gan, past Drug En­force­ment Agency lead­ers. Pres­i­dent Trump has a rare chance to end this un­con­scionable, so­cial­ist ex­per­i­ment in hu­man in­dif­fer­ence.

Ten pres­i­den­tial acts will help:

• Re­store full re­spect for Amer­ica’s law en­force­ment com­mu­nity, at all levels.

• Stop politi­ciza­tion of the Jus­tice Depart­ment, which un­der­mines re­spect for law, dis­hon­or­ing those who wear the badge, vest and gun — to pro­tect us.

• En­force fed­eral laws against nar­cotic traf­fick­ing, from mar­i­juana to opi­ates, no ex­cuses, in all 50 states. “Con­flict of laws?” Bring it on — and win fed­eral pre-emp­tion.

• End the pub­lic fic­tion that drug le­gal­iza­tion is good for Amer­ica. Hard science and moral prin­ci­ple say the op­po­site. In­creased avail­abil­ity and de­creased de­ter­rence al­ways pro­duce in­creased nar­cotics use, which al­ways el­e­vates ad­dic­tion rates, which al­ways raise risks across pub­lic health and safety vari­ables. Nar­cotics ad­dic­tion is a bear trap. Pol­i­cy­mak­ers are ei­ther for it or against it. End the fic­tion — cold turkey.

• Make cred­i­ble, cre­den­tialed, science-based drug pre­ven­tion manda­tory in all schools. Em­ploy man­dates, in­cen­tives, grants and au­dits to as­sure com­pli­ance. Less than one in three par­ents talks with their kids about drugs — some­one needs to or car­tels will.

• Ed­u­cate Amer­ica’s par­ents, of­fer­ing real facts in the work­place, with­out sugar coat­ing. Do it con­sciously, dis­cred­it­ing those who pro­mote, en­dan­ger and mis­guide young peo­ple. Ed­mund Burke said it: All it takes for evil to pre­vail is for good peo­ple to do noth­ing.

• El­e­vate the mis­sion, clar­ify fed­eral legal au­thor­i­ties, and triple the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion (DEA) bud­get, al­low­ing that pro­fes­sional, sin­gle-minded and uniquely coura­geous group of agents to do ex­actly what they were hired to do, make Amer­ica safe against drug traf­fick­ers and drug­funded ter­ror groups.

• In a fun­da­men­tal shift, com­bine the jobs of White House drug czar and ad­min­is­tra­tor of DEA, el­e­vat­ing the new post to Cabi­net rank, as long as the in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic crises rage. In the process of com­bin­ing of­fices and sav­ing money, the new “DEA ad­min­is­tra­tor and White House drug czar” should have four deputies, fed­eral en­force­ment (Ti­tle 21 USC, prin­ci­ple), state and lo­cal, pre­ven­tion and treat­ment. This com­bines legal and op­er­a­tional au­thor­i­ties, meets an elec­tion man­date, cre­ates over­due syn­er­gies, and el­e­vates the “bully pul­pit.” A new Cabi­net-rank DEA ad­min­is­tra­tor and drug czar could co­or­di­nate drug pol­icy for the pres­i­dent across the in­tera­gency, as a peer. Out­comes, pol­icy, legal, bud­get and over­sight would align.

• Cre­ate a treat­ment clear­ing­house, in co­or­di­na­tion with Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, vet­ting and ex­pand­ing badly needed and ef­fec­tive drug treat­ment op­tions.

• De­liver an Oval Of­fice ad­dress, as Ronald Rea­gan and Ge­orge H.W. Bush did well.

Beat­ing epi­demics to an end is not easy, but the man­date for change is pow­er­ful. Let’s end the in­dif­fer­ence, el­e­vate so­lu­tions and ben­e­fit all Amer­i­cans. That would make a good start.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY M. RY­DER

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