US: Ex-drug czar shares findings
Drug addiction is a medical problem that should be
treated as a chronic disease, according to experts gathered Friday at
the Hyatt Regency Monterey for a national forum on drug and alcohol
dependency. Illegal drug use in the United States "has by and large
already been decriminalized," said former U.S. drug czar and retired
Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey. The problem, he said, isn't that drugs are
illegal, but that they cause mental, medical, legal and social problems.
McCaffrey served as director of the White House Office of National Drug
Control Policy in the Clinton administration and now teaches national
security affairs at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He and
Barry W. Karlin, chairman and CEO of CRC Health Groups Inc., addressed
the Western U.S. Summit for Clinical Excellence on Tuesday, which drew
250 health professionals -- social workers, psychologists, addiction
counselors, researchers and doctors -- under the aegis of the Ben
Franklin Institute of Scottsdale, Ariz.
McCaffrey has recently returned from Afghanistan,
where the new government has been waging an opium-eradication campaign.
Such work has been successful in other countries, he said. In the past
five years, Pakistan and Thailand have essentially ended large-scale
opium poppy farming, and Peru and Bolivia have halted coca farming,
though "there is nothing more lucrative than growing coca or opium."
Success demands a three-pronged approach, McCaffrey
said: help from the government to establish legitimate crops by teaching
farmers how to grow them, supplying them with seed, tools and other
materials and building road networks to get them to market; eradicating
illegal crops; and having a nation's leadership publicly denounce drug
cultivation as harmful to the country.
In Afghanistan's case, he said, opium use "is
non-Islamic, not in accord with their traditions," and its continued
presence generates massive drug abuse, addiction, graft, violence and
corruption. Afghanistan is now the world's No. 1 heroin supplier, he
said. Proceeds from drugs fund terrorist campaigns by al-Qaida and
warlords, and destabilizes the democracy the U.S. hopes to see built
there, he said.
McCaffrey said he has been supportive of efforts to
"create conditions of law and order" on the U.S.-Mexican border, but
said that 95 percent of illegal immigrants who cross into the United
States have nothing to do with crime or drugs. Canada, he said, is one
of the largest producers of marijuana, and the Netherlands is one of the
top suppliers of mood-enhancing drugs such as Ecstasy. McCaffrey and
Karlin said educating young people from middle school through high
school is key.
A youth who can reach age 21 without abusing drugs or
alcohol, Karlin said, stands a better than 90 percent chance of having
no substance abuse problems as an adult. Drug and alcohol addiction
can't be cured with a few weeks of treatment at a detox center, he said.
It has to be treated "as a chronic condition, with long-term care, like
diabetes, hypertension or asthma." McCaffrey said there have been
victories in the war on drugs domestically.
In the past three years, U.S. "current use" -- use of
any drug within the past 30 days -- has declined nationwide 11 percent,
he said. During the past 20 years, drug abuse has fallen 50 percent, and
crime and teenage pregnancy are in decline. The nation faces a problem
with rising use of methamphetamines, pharmaceutical painkillers and
artificial opiates, "the new heroin," McCaffrey said. Drugs and alcohol,
he said, are involved in most cases where people are arrested and
incarcerated for crimes, or hospitalized for traumatic injuries, and
cost billions of dollars in lost productivity, health care, material
loss and damage.
10 June 2006