What the national drug crisis requires

It’s pounding at the door and deserves a focused response

By Robert Charles

Extraordinary times we live in — not least because supposedly responsible people are promoting drug abuse, which everyone knows cascades into addiction, drug-crime, overdoses — that are killing us. So what gives? No one wants to stand up and take responsibility for saying — stop this madness, and fix the crisis. America’s greatness depends on a lot of things — and stopping the rolling, expansive, destructive drug crisis is one

Last year, America lost 52,000 young people — every race and creed — to drug overdoses. That has never happened before. That figure also misses those who died because of drugged driving, workplace accidents, urban violence, domestic abuse, property and personal crime. These numbers are breathtaking, heart-rending. The next attorney general — and the next head of the Drug Enforcement Administration — have to address this crisis head-on. We have no more time.

• America is in the grips of an unprecedented abuse, addiction and drug-related crime crisis. Community by community, data suggest we are at some tipping point. Drug-related homicides, violent crimes, domestic abuse, youth use, addiction, emergency room incidents, and health care costs tell us what we do not want to hear.

Some 2.8 million Americans are in drug treatment — more every year, multiples trying. No state escapes this menace. Alaska has 10,525 in treatment, Maine 19,232, Arizona 78,744, Pennsylvania 180,526, West Virginia 214,501, Ohio 220,512. Numbers just keep rising, marijuana, synthetics, opiates.

Stories abound. Pick up any paper. Last week, three Amtrak workers were killed, one tested positive for cocaine, a second for oxycodone, codeine and morphine, a third for marijuana. They were at different jobs, but all died. Look at any industry — and ask: What is going on?

• Exploding opiate and marijuana abuse reflect failure of national leadership — from the former president on down. When a president jokes and promotes drugs, what do you expect? When he released thousands of drug traffickers, social fabric tears. When successive attorneys general fail to enforce federal laws against drug trafficking, we have failed leadership. Thankfully, that crowd is gone — but crisis remains.

• The current opiate crisis is traceable, in large measure, to false messages. States are promoting drug abuse — especially of marijuana — with false narratives. They must stop. Narratives suggesting drug abuse is relatively harmless, non-addictive, generally reversible, medically sustainable, or socially acceptable must stop. Messages implying it will not adversely affect a teen’s brain development or adult’s brain function — are utterly false. Deadly, and false. As such, these narratives are not just irresponsible; they are criminal.

• The raging marijuana crisis reflects ignorance, indifference and cynicism. Legalizing and promoting drug abuse for tax money is immoral. It also makes no sense. It promotes physical and fiscal sickness. Revenue generated is swallowed by escalating medical, addiction, hospital, drugged driving, workplace, education, dropout, crime and social costs.

The record is painfully clear — from 1960s Sweden to recent experiments. Legalization unconscionably hurts families, friends and communities, inflicting deep losses they are unable to recoup, taking lives they cannot restart. It is a cynical, self-defeating policy.

• Those promoting drug legalization know facts — but do not tell. They bypass truth for self-promotion. Aiming to raise revenue, win votes, style themselves progressive, look the maverick, settle scores with law enforcement, rationalize prejudice over prison policy, they indulge themselves at the cost of innocents. Their silence is deafening. Today’s rise in drug deaths lies squarely at their feet — and at the feet of anyone who would call a smoked narcotic medicine, or promote abuse by children.

• Teens do not start with opiates — they begin with other drugs, especially marijuana. One national prevention leader, who lost a child to an overdose, recently said: “Wake up, every parent who loses a child to heroin or opiates knows the first drug experience was marijuana.” What part of that do we not get? Promoting marijuana promotes addiction. Addiction promotes overdose. Who are we kidding? Stop the fiction.

• Treatment for addiction is essential, but will not end America’s drug crisis. Without thoughtful upstream leadership in education and deterrence, prevention and mandatory drug testing, unremitting prosecution of drug traffickers, enforcement of federal law, and respect for law enforcement — the crisis will deepen.

• Anti-law enforcement sentiment must stop, support return. Law enforcement is composed of selfless men and women. They live and work to preserve order, public health and safety, in every single American community. They hold the line on chaos. These officers are the best of America.

• Drug abuse prevention is vital to promote healthy, productive, long lives. Lack of drug education is simply irresponsible; deliberate misinformation is unconscionable, unforgivable and criminal.

Finally – hope, leadership and personal responsibility matter. Leadership is action, knowing truth and speaking it — to power and powerless. Conscience and courage can reverse deep wrongs. To end America’s drug crisis, we must support those who strap on a vest and gun to combat drug traffickers. They protect us, stop funding of terror, and make our communities stronger.

We all have a part to play in reversing this crisis. We need to learn facts, educate each other, support law enforcement, stop blindly promoting drug legalization and abuse, work to stop the tragedy abuse engenders. We have to enforce federal laws, and want them enforced. We have to focus on what matters — saving young lives, not endangering them. This is the calling of our time.

Robert Charles is a former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement under George W. Bush. He writes often on law and counter-narcotics policy.