Sunday, January 16, 2005

Just Say "No" to Hyman

In his recent commentary about teen drug use, Mark Hyman crows about the reported fall in use of certain types of drugs among adolescents in recent years. Unfortunately, he leaves out important information that leads to a distorted picture of the drug situation.

We can all agree that fewer teens using drugs is a good thing. But Hyman pointedly marks 2001 as the starting point for the decline in drug use to suggest that President Clinton’s policies were lax. In truth, the broad decline in drug use among teens began in the last several years of the Clinton administration during Gen. Barry McCaffrey’s tenure.

In truth, the most damning criticism of the Clinton administration’s approach to the drug issue is that its policies too closely mirrored those of the Reagan/Bush administrations, particularly those of drug “czar” William Bennett (himself no stranger to addictions of various sorts). Such policies tended to cause more problems than they solved by focusing almost solely on enforcement and incarceration, as well as targeting casual users. The result was an enormous spike in prison sentences for minor drug offences at huge taxpayer expense, as well as the disproportionate incarceration of poor and minority males, while middle class and affluent white users received little attention.

This misguided approach governs the current Bush administration as well. A recent administration proposal suggests drug testing at public schools as one route to discourage drug use among teens, and the president claims statistics demonstrate the effectiveness of this tactic. Unfortunately, the president is not being truthful. The very same survey cited by Hyman in his editorial also says that drug testing at schools is counterproductive and creates a hostile atmosphere that does little to stop drug use while inflicting a great deal of collateral damage on the school environment.

Most damning of all, however, is the Bush administration going AWOL on the issue of heroin production. One of the few things the Taliban did that wasn’t despicable was cut down the poppy industry in Afghanistan. A clearly-formulated post war plan for that country would have made economic and agricultural development a priority for the creation of a democratic Afghanistan that would continue to keep a lid on heroin production. That clearly-formulated plan, of course, never materialized, and Afghanistan is once again the heroin capital of the world, with poor farmers selling their only cash crop to those who would flood America and the rest of the world with the drug.

It’s great that fewer teens are using marijuana and cocaine, but for the Bush administration to take sole credit for this decrease while ignoring its failures is yet another example of an administration that puts talk ahead of action.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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