Pubdate: Thu, 04 Jul 2002
Source: Times Leader (PA)
Copyright: 2002 The Times Leader
Author: Mae Kamin


A drug epidemic continues to sweep our communities and our country. It's 
been termed "a disaster of historic dimensions." It is counterproductive 
and causing more harm than it is preventing.

Isn't it time we stopped incarcerating our citizens who are drug users and 
find a peaceful solution or effective treatment such as the programs the 
Switzerland and Germany are using with excellent results? Looking at 
alternative programs does not mean supporting legalization!

Our children are the scapegoats for big profits to a group of drug dealers 
who have no regard for the drama that follows for the users and their 
families. Young people in our communities are losing their lives to drug 
overdoses, and unless your family is affected in some way, you may not 
understand the situation these families are facing.

Some people think if it hasn't touched their family, it doesn't exist. I 
feel it is touching all of our lives in some way, by higher taxes to 
continue the War on Drugs, higher crime rate, and the breakup of families. 
I do not believe we can accomplish anything worthwhile by declaring war on 
anything or anyone.

The drug problem is worse than it has ever been, in spite of the billions 
spent to fight it, easier to obtain and cheaper than ever. It is rampant in 
our schools.

According to information in "Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can 
Do About It, A Judicial Indictment of The War On Drugs" by Judge James P. 
Gray, drug users are being incarcerated by the thousands, while few dealers 
rarely are caught and imprisoned. The number of violent offenders in prison 
has doubled since 1980, the number of drug prisoners has increased sevenfold.

There are six times more people behind bars in the country than in all 12 
of the countries that make up the European Union combined, even though they 
have 100 million more citizens. More than 400,000 people are behind bars 
for drug offenses in the U.S. In fact, the United States, with less than 5 
percent of the world's population, has one quarter of the world's prisoners.

As of September 1998, 58 percent of all federal prisoners were serving time 
for drug offenses. Our prison system is one of the largest businesses in 
our country. Isn't this enough information to help that does not work?

Our nation's former Drug Czar, Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, said we have a 
failed social policy and it has to be re-evaluated. Otherwise, we're going 
to bankrupt ourselves because we can't incarcerate our way out of the problem.

Taxpayers pay $20,000-$30,000 to keep one inmate confined for a year. The 
average cost at age 55 increases to $69,000, due to the increase in health 
care coverage.

Perhaps instead of continuing to paint a picture of condemnation and 
punishment by following our current drug policies, we can choose a 
different and better path and paint a masterpiece, a beautiful legacy for 
our children. There is HOPE!

A group of parents and concerned citizens have come together and formed a 
Drug Forum through the Peace Center to discuss these drug issues and what 
we can do to turn things around. For information, please call the Peace 
Center in Wilkes-Barre at 287-7620.

Mae Kamin, Forty Fort
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