- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

President Bush's national drug-control strategy, released yesterday, proposes a fiscal 2004 budget of $11.7 billion to stop drug use before it starts, heal America's drug users and disrupt the illicit drug market.
John P. Walters, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the proposed budget includes a $600 million voucher plan to expand access to substance-abuse treatment, enhance consumer choice and increase provider accountability.
"We have made important progress in reducing youth drug use. We now must accelerate and broaden that progress," Mr. Walters said. "Maintaining our momentum will require a sustained focus on a balanced strategy and a stronger-than-ever partnership with parents, educators and community leaders who have the power to make the drug problem smaller in communities across America."
Mr. Walters called drug-prevention efforts "our first line of defense against illegal drug use," adding that programs aimed at preventing drug use were "invaluable in educating young people about the dangers of drugs and reinforcing a climate of social disapproval of drug use."
He said about 5.6 million Americans meet the clinical criteria for drug treatment, but the overwhelming majority of those fail to recognize their need for treatment.
The new strategy's "Recovery Now initiative" will use $600 million over three years to provide drug treatment to people otherwise unable to obtain access to services. Mr. Walters said those in need of treatment will receive evidence-based assessments and will be issued vouchers for appropriate services by state-referred organizations.
"We know that treatment works. But we also know that there are too many Americans who, for a variety of reasons, cannot access the treatment they need," he said. "By giving people a choice, and the direct means to help connect them with effective treatment, we will be able to more directly help drug users who have recognized their problem."
Mr. Walters said the new strategy recognizes the importance of eroding the economic base of the drug trade. Every step that makes the drug trade more dangerous and less profitable for drug dealers is a step toward "breaking" the international and domestic market for illegal drugs, he said.
The new strategy also seeks $2.1 billion for drug interdiction, an increase of 7.3 percent from 2003. The Bush administration also will continue to target the supply of illegal drugs in source countries. The administration is requesting $731 million for the Andean Counterdrug Initiative to be applied in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.
"Drug users respond to market forces because the drug trade is a market. We must make drugs scarce, expensive and of unreliable quality," Mr. Walters said.
"Reducing the availability of dangerous substances will keep our children healthy and complement our efforts to reduce the demand for drugs," he said. "We look forward to working with our international partners and domestic law enforcement agencies to eliminate the misery for which the illegal drug industry is responsible."
Mr. Walters said illegal drugs claim 52,000 lives annually and drain the U.S. economy of $160 billion a year in economic costs.

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