- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

I normally do not comment on nominations pending before the Judiciary Committee. But given the Senate's continued delay in acting on the confirmation of a drug czar, I feel compelled to respond to the gross distortions of the record of John Walters, nominee for director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

Ever since Mr. Walters' name was first mentioned months ago for the next drug czar position, several interested individuals and groups have attacked his nomination with a barrage of unfounded criticisms. I write to set the record straight and to emphasize why our country needs John Walters confirmed now.

According to the most recent national surveys, youth drug use, particularly use of so-called "club drugs" such as ecstasy and GHB, tragically is again on the rise. Over the past two years, current use of ecstasy among 12th graders increased dramatically by 140 percent. During this same period, the number of emergency-room visits resulting from the use of ecstasy increased 295 percent, and 80 percent of those visits were by patients under the age of 25. It is simply shocking that by the time of graduation from high school, more than 50 percent of our youth have used an illicit drug. We must act immediately to reverse these soaring numbers and to prevent our youth from endangering their lives.

If we are to win the war on drugs in America, we need a comprehensive policy aimed at reducing both the demand for and supply of drugs. Columnist William Raspberry wrote recently that Mr. Walters believes "we can incarcerate our way out of our drug problem." On the contrary, a review of Mr. Walters' accomplished record demonstrates that he has always believed in a comprehensive approach that focuses on both demand and supply reduction. For example, in testimony given before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, Mr. Walters then acting director of ONDCP, laid out a national drug control strategy that included the following guiding principles: educating our citizens about the dangers of drug use; placing more addicts in effective treatment programs; expanding the number and quality of treatment programs; reducing the supply and availability of drugs on our streets; and dismantling trafficking organizations through tough law-enforcement and interdiction measures. And, in congressional testimony given in 1993, Mr. Walters affirmed that an effective anti-drug strategy must "integrate efforts to reduce the supply of as well as the demand for illegal drugs." Sounds balanced to me and certainly not a plan to "incarcerate our way out of our drug problem."

After reading some other misleading articles regarding Mr. Walters' record, few would guess that prevention of drug addiction was his highest priority. Responding to President Bush's selection of Mr. Walters, commentator Michael Massing charged that the nominee "will put prosecution before prevention, tougher laws before treatment." Yet, the strategy announced by Mr. Walters in 1991 had as its highest priority "preventing drug use before it starts." Indeed, prevention spending increased by 88 percent during his five-year tenure at ONDCP. No other component, including law enforcement and interdiction, was increased more than prevention. By comparison, during the entire eight years of the Clinton administration, prevention funding only increased 22 percent. Mr. Massing must have overlooked that part of Mr. Walters' record.

Mr. Walters' balanced approach was the right choice, and it is the right choice right now. In 1993, he testified that more and better treatment was sorely needed, and he worked to remedy the shortfall. During his tenure at ONDCP, spending on drug treatment increased 74 percent. During the Clinton era, treatment spending increased only 17 percent.

Mr. Walters continues to emphasize treatment programs. Earlier this year, I introduced S. 304, the "Drug Abuse Education, Prevention, and Treatment Act of 2001," a bipartisan bill that I drafted with Sens. Leahy, Biden, DeWine, Thurmond and Feinstein. This bill would dramatically increase prevention and treatment efforts. In drafting the bill, I repeatedly solicited Mr. Walters' expert advice. I know, and his record clearly reflects, that he agrees with me and my Senate colleagues that prevention and treatment must be integral components of our national drug control strategy.

Thus, Mr. Walters' record is replete with calls for more and better prevention and treatment programs. I sincerely hope that the current criticisms of him are not being orchestrated by those who had hoped Mr. Bush would nominate a person that would favor legalization or who would put less emphasis on interdiction and law enforcement. In addition to boosting prevention and treatment efforts, the problems our country faces demand more than ever that we continue the vigilant defense of our borders and our streets against those who make their living by manufacturing and selling illegal drugs. To his credit, Mr. Walters does not believe, as some may have wished, that we ought to give up on a vigorous law enforcement offensive against these merchants of misery. I look forward to working with him and the administration in finding new ways to solve rather than surrender to America's drug problem.

We cannot begin this effort, however, until Mr. Walters is confirmed. A hearing has now been scheduled for today. The Bush administration is eager to institute its drug policies and begin attacking the problem of youth drug use. I would hope Senate Democrats would demonstrate their commitment to solving our growing drug problem by confirming Mr. Walters immediately without further delay. With Mr. Walters in place, I look forward to working with my Senate Democratic colleagues to implement a balanced drug control policy and end the era of benign neglect.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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