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America’s will to battle drug abuse debated after DEA head’s pe


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Americans have the will to win the war against illegal drugs despite a contrary opinion expressed by one of the government’s top drug enforcement officials, say evangelical leaders focusing on the problem.
“Americans have the will, but they need someone to inspire them to take action,” said Ted Stone, a Southern Baptist minister who has drawn attention to the nation’s drug problem by twice walking coast to coast — more than 3,500 miles each time, spreading the gospel and encouraging communities to intensify their efforts in the fight against drug abuse.
Stone’s comments came in response to remarks by Thomas Constantine, head of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), who said that the nation neither has the will nor the resources to win the drug war. Constantine said in a front-page story in USA Today Feb. 19 that curbing drug use is not a high enough priority with the American people.
“The use of drugs is really a prevention issue, and the long-term solution for this nation is when our own citizens, families, teachers and employers take this as seriously as they do the Y2K [Year 2000 computer] problem,” Constantine was quoted as saying.
“The solutions cannot be found solely in the expenditures of our federal government,” Stone said in a telephone interview from Morehead, N.C., where he is writing a book on his coast-to-coast walks. “It will take local involvement.
“I appreciate what drug interdiction officials and law enforcement agencies are doing,” Stone said, but he noted “there is a huge demand for drugs in our nation and we must do something about the demand.”
“Most Americans, I believe, will stand together to achieve victory in this war if they understand the serious nature of the problem and discover viable solutions.”
The church must assume a leadership role in this cause, Stone said. It was Stone who introduced a recommendation — that was approved by the SBC at its annual meeting last year in Salt Lake City — calling for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination to establish a drug task force composed of leaders from all SBC agencies. The task force, charged with articulating how the SBC can become more involved in addressing the nation’s drug woes, is expected to make its first report at the Atlanta convention in June. Bob Maginnis, senior director for national security and foreign affairs issues for the Family Research Council, said Americans have the will to win the war, but are bereft of leadership.
“The American people need a leader and it has to be the president, not the head of the DEA,” Maginnis said. “There is a lack of commitment because there is a lack of leadership at the top.”
Maginnis said the United Nations has done a good job of stemming production of cocaine and heroin in countries like Peru, Colombia, Afghanistan and Burma, but the United States has not done enough to help those countries grow alternative crops. Thus, Maginnis said, the president should decertify the United States’ trade relationship with those countries and others like Mexico when the annual review of trade certification begins in March.
“Clinton will not decertify Mexico because it is our second-leading trade partner behind Japan,” Maginnis said. “Trade with Mexico has gone from $42 million in 1993 to $174 million in 1998.”
More than 250 million vehicles cross the U.S. border with Mexico annually and only 5 percent are searched for illegal drugs, Maginnis said.
“The major drug cartels are along the border,” he said. “Last year 300 tons of cocaine, 80 percent of all marijuana, and half of the heroin came across our border from Mexico.”
Unlike the “Just Say No” campaign of the Reagan presidency, President Clinton failed to aggressively address illegal drugs in his first term “because of his own admitted drug use and the use of drugs by his brother,” Maginnis said, noting the president did not get tough on illegal drugs until his hand was forced when it became a campaign issue in his 1996 re-election bid.
Clinton found himself in more drug-related hot water just in February when it was reported that beer — containing hemp — was served on Air Force One during the President’s trip home from Mexico. The Air Force responded to inquiries by saying White House officials are responsible for determining what is served on Air Force One, but the White House blamed the Air Force and then declared such beverages off-limits from hence forth on Air Force One.
When Reagan took office there were 25.4 million Americans using drugs, while today the number stands at about half that number, but there are troubling signs, Maginnis said.
DEA arrests and seizures of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana, for example, set records in 1998 for the 25-year-old agency. The DEA arrested 36,835 people last year, compared to 33,160 arrests made in 1997. According to statistics noted by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the use of illegal drugs has increased 7 percent increase — to 14 million people — since 1997. About 1.2 million people overall were arrested on drug charges in 1997, a 73 percent increase over the number arrested in 1992.
A study released last May by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), estimated the economic cost of alcohol and drug abuse to be $246 billion in 1992, the most recent year for which sufficient data were available. Approximately $98 billion was associated with treatment for the use of illegal drugs. Prior to this study, the most comprehensive estimates of such costs were based on data for 1985. The new estimates are 50 percent higher than the earlier study.
Estimates of the costs of drug abuse have shown a steady and strong pattern of increase since 1977. The NIDA study states that rising drug abuse costs can be traced to the cocaine and HIV epidemics, an eightfold increase in state and federal incarcerations for drug offenses and about a threefold increase in crimes attributed to drugs.
A survey of 50,000 students around the country last year by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan revealed that 49 percent of high school seniors and 22 percent of eighth-graders said they had tried marijuana. Time magazine reported in December 1996 that 68 percent of teens can buy marijuana any day, 62 percent have friends who use marijuana and 58 percent have been solicited to buy marijuana by the time they reach age 17.
“This is clearly a moral issue,” Maginnis said, noting how studies have consistently shown that children who smoke marijuana are more likely to skip school, assault someone and have premarital sex.
Nearly 2 million Americans use cocaine, according to NIDA. The estimated number of new heroin users increased from 68,000 in 1992 to 216,000 in 1996. A large portion of heroin users, identified in the NIDA study, was under the age of 26. According to 1996 statistics cited by the ERLC, the use of LSD and other hallucinogens had risen among teenagers since 1988 from 4.4 percent to 7.7 percent, a 75 percent increase.
“I do not agree that the American people lack the will to fight the war on drugs,” said Barrett Duke, an ERLC spokesman on substance abuse. “Unfortunately, too many of our country’s leaders do. We do recognize the fact that apparently a significant percentage of the American people are confused about the dangers of drug abuse, but we do not believe it means they lack the will to fight drug abuse. It means that those who should have been educating the American public have failed to do so adequately.”
Maginnis said some Americans are confused by the conflicting messages that marijuana is useful for medicinal purposes while free needles for heroin addicts could curb the spread of HIV.
“Marijuana for medicinal purposes is a red herring for people who want to legalize it,” Maginnis said. “Heroin addicts are far more likely to die from an overdose than they are from AIDS. We need to get them treatment.”
Stone, Maginnis and Duke praised White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey and Congress for spending more energy and money on drug education and prevention programs while continuing aggressive drug interdiction efforts. Congress appropriated a whopping $3 billion last year for drug interdiction in Peru, Colombia, and Bolivia. But all three men called on churches and families to get more involved and cited research to support their call.
For example, younger brothers and sisters who regularly spend time with their older siblings for at least a year are 46 percent less likely to start using illegal drugs, according to a 1998 survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health of Human Services’ Center For Substance Abuse Prevention.
“Imagine what would happen if parents got involved,” Duke said. “This indicates how the involvement of adults is a critical component in the fight against drugs.”
The impact churches can have on the drug problem is evident, Stone said. Only 13 percent of teens who attend religious services four times a month or more have smoked marijuana, compared to 39 percent who attend less than once a month, according to a 1998 study by the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
Secular drug treatment agencies were recording success rates in the single digits in 1996, while Christian groups and churches recorded a much higher rate, the ERLC noted. The Christian ministry, Teen Challenge, for example, records a 70-86 percent success rate in getting addicts off drugs. The New England Journal of Medicine reported in 1995 that adolescents who are most likely never to use illegal drugs are those who are active in religion, perform well academically, have hope for the future and view marijuana as dangerous.
“There is a great deal of hurt across America and even in the pews of our churches,” Stone said. “We need to get people to want a better lifestyle. America’s young people need a new set of heroes. There is no better hero than the ones they see everyday, like a parent or friend who embrace sobriety.”

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  • Don Hinkle