White House seeks 25 percent drop in drug usage over five years

Tuesday, February 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush wants to cut the use of illegal drugs by 25 percent over the next five years by improving law enforcement and treating more addicts.

His administration's anti-drug strategy, which was being unveiled Tuesday, seeks a 10 percent reduction in drug use within two years.

``This strategy represents the first step in the return of the fight against drugs to the center of our national agenda,'' President Bush said in a letter accompanying a White House report.

``We acknowledge that drug use among our young people is at unacceptably high levels,'' he said.

The strategy is based on making existing anti-drug programs more efficient and reducing public tolerance for drug use, White House drug policy director John Walters said in an interview.

``We have to undermine the cynicism that people are always going to use drugs at roughly the same amount that they're using now. That's not true. And my goal is to demonstrate that's not true,'' he said.

Walters' priorities include identifying drug users who need treatment but are unlikely to seek it; helping recovering addicts stay clean; disrupting money laundering networks; and gleaning better intelligence about drug distribution networks so they can be broken up.

The report comes two months after Walters was confirmed for the Cabinet-level post over the objections of some top Democrats. A protege of former drug policy director William Bennett, Walters was seen as being more focused on punishing traffickers and fighting drugs abroad than in helping drug users through treatment programs.

Walters' critics say he's done nothing so far to prove them wrong.

``It's drug war on auto-pilot. It's not anything any different than what we've seen,'' said William McCall of the Drug Policy Alliance, which favors decriminalization of drugs.

McCall also criticized the White House's anti-drug advertising campaign, which was unveiled during the Super Bowl. The campaign's message is that money used to buy drugs may benefit terrorists.

``He's barely gotten going and he's already blaming America's teen-agers for terrorism,'' he said.

Walters said parents have found the ads to be helpful in discussing drugs with their children. ``It was one of the most powerful media concepts we ever looked at,'' he said.

The White House report strikes back at Walters' critics by referring to them as ``self-styled drug policy `reformers''' and saying that legalization efforts have frustrated progress toward reducing illegal drug use.

Bush's proposed budget for 2003 includes $19.2 billion in anti-drug spending, 2 percent increase over this year.

He wants $644 million for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program, which encourages drug-prevention among young people and $731 million to fight drug trafficking in the Andes.

Bush has pledged to increase drug treatment spending by $1.6 billion over five years.