Pubdate: Sun, 29 Oct 2000
Date: 10/29/2000
Source: Bergen Record (NJ)
Author: William C. Van Ost

Neither of the candidates for New Jersey's U.S. Senate seat nor any of
the candidates seeking election or reelection to the House from the
New Jersey's 5th and 9th Districts has, so far, made reference to what
I view as the No. 1 health problem facing this country: the national
drug epidemic.

It's as if this intractable social and criminal problem has simply
gone away.

Perhaps that very lack of attention by our political leaders can
explain why polls show that the "drug problem" is no longer considered
one of the top 10 public issues. Alcohol and other drugs still kill
more 225,000 people a year -- more than 4,300 a week. They still fill
our hospital beds. They still are the chief ingredients of crime in
both the United States and New Jersey. They are still the major causes
of auto accidents, of family breakups, of lost productivity, and of
spousal and child abuse.

Congress has already approved the projected 2001 national drug control
budget of $19.2 billion. According to the National Drug Control
Strategy 2000 annual report, 67 percent of that budget is dedicated to
domestic law enforcement, interdiction, and international strategies;
the remaining funds are allocated to treatment and prevention efforts
(only 20 percent and 13 percent respectively).

Now, the president has authorized an additional $1.3 billion for an
anti-drug aid package in Colombia, which may not only be dangerous but
will also simply not work. Why not?

In 1985, in 1987, and again in 1993, successive major Colombia drug
cartel honchos were either killed or imprisoned. Each time the
then-U.S. drug czar would declare victory in the "war on drugs," and
each time a new cartel would come into power and assume control of 80
percent of the cocaine shipped into the United States, worth billions
per year. In spite of these "victories," we see no decrease in the
cocaine traffic.

With "Plan Columbia," the president buys protection against charges by
the far right that he and his party are "soft on drugs." Fearing the
same charge, members of Congress of both parties have accepted the

What do I want? I want candidates to acknowledge that "waging war on
drugs" is simply not working.

I want candidates to change allocations of the 2001 budget and target
what does work: drug abuse education, treatment, and rehabilitation,
and an enlightened approach to law enforcement.

William C. Van Ost,

Note: The writer, a physician, is co-founder and consultant to The Van Ost
Institute-Addiction Treatment Center in Englewood.