- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 1999

Colombia is out of control. It is a flipping nightmare. If we believe our own rhetoric, I think a persuasive argument can be made that the interests of the American people would be served by this [$1 billion-plus aid package]. We need to have a coherent, longtime democratic response in the region.” So said Gen. Barry McCaffrey, head of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, when he recently met with editors and reporters of this newspaper.

Gen. McCaffrey, America’s drug czar, blamed his own administration for not sending up to Congress a package that would have sent more than $1 billion to help the Colombian police and military fight the production and distribution of cocaine and heroin. In short, he deems the current U.S. drug policy toward Colombia an “unmitigated disaster.” Indeed, it is in “the interests of the American people” to not only democratize Colombia but to stem its flourishing drug trade.

Eighty percent of cocaine and 70 percent of heroin sold in the United States either comes from or passes through Colombia. Drug cultivation currently consumes nearly 300,000 acres of land, or double that of three years ago. All the while, the cost of drugs on the U.S. economy rises with more and more tax dollars being used for more prisons, more jails, more judges, and more lawyers and for more costly hospital treatments and such troubling programs as needle-exchange programs and methadone clinics.

Telling as well is the fact that Colombia and its neighboring nations have surpassed Southeast Asia as the world’s largest opiate-producing area. And, just as crack-cocaine distribution and abuse caused a host of crime, health and economic ills for more than a decade, so, too, is heroin abuse. The number of American heroin abusers entering treatment programs rose nearly 30 percent since the early 1990s, and nearly 1 in 5 treatment admissions are for heroin and other deadly opiates. In 1997, for the first time since 1992, heroin abuse surpassed cocaine. Substance abuse, particularly heroin abuse, has reached epidemic proportions in Delaware, Maryland and Massachusetts, and many states have waiting lists for treatment regardless of the substance or substances the addict abuses.

What is startling are these facts as well: The average age for a first-time heroin user is 17; the new generation of heroin addicts consists of teen-agers from middle- and upper-middle-class suburban homes; street heroin is purer 90 purer in some cities, such as Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington; users are likely to snort or smoke purer heroin rather than inject it. Clearly, while substance abuse hits hardest in urban areas, the new picture of the affluent heroin addict replaces the long-held portrait of a inner-city junkie shooting up.

Unfortunately, while the federal government and states and localities toughened drug laws, the pace of substance abuse picks up anew. To be sure, cleaning up Colombia and other international markets is vital to America’s self-interest, but the demand end of the equation is vitally important, too. Colombian cartels, whether the feds want to admit it or not, outsmarted the White House. You see, when the United States finally came down hard during the crack epidemic, They began producing “better” and more heroin. Seems the Clinton White House has yet to play catch up again.

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