admits a drug-free America is impossible
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is what happens to your brain after starting marijuana.
BARRY McCAFFREY, DRUG POLICY DIRECTOR: At the end of the day -- and really this comes lock, stock, and barrel out of Partnership for Drug Free America.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is what your family goes through.
McCAFFREY: What we're trying to do is change youth attitudes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And your friends.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: When you have the courage to say, "No, I'm not going to do drugs and you shouldn't do drugs either," when you have the courage to turn in somebody who's a drug dealer, when you have the courage to insist that you want to go to a drug-free school, live in a drug-free neighborhood, when you turn to your younger brother and sister and say, "Don't you do it," you may literally be saving their life.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These ads are designed to knock America up side the head and get America's attention and to empower all of you who are trying to do the right thing. Please do it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any questions?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOBBIE BATTISTA, HOST: Will new government ads keep your kids off drugs? Ask drug policy director Barry McCaffrey why he thinks they work. Also, a man some call Dr. Vomit offers a more graphic deterrent. And this man suggests the government is in denial. Are you? Get ready to talk back.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to TALKBACK LIVE, CNN's interactive talk show. I'm Bobbie Battista, and we are taking stock of the war on drugs as the government releases a new series of public service announcements today.
With us in our studios, General Barry McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and a member of the National
Security Council. With us as well from Dallas, we are joined by Dr. Larry Alexander, an emergency room physician who has earned the nickname, Dr. Vomit. And we will get into that a little bit later in the show.
General McCaffrey, good to see you. Nice to have you on the show.
MCCAFFREY: Good to be here, Bobbie.
BATTISTA: The ad that we saw just a few moments ago is pretty much the sum and substance of what you hope will be a $2 billion, five-year advertising campaign aimed at keeping kids off drugs. Why do you think these ads will work?
MCCAFFREY: Well, we're going to begin what we launched today with President Clinton. And we had Attorney General Janet Reno here and Secretary Donna Shalala and the Speaker to try and indicate this is a bipartisan effort.
We're going to talk to children, particularly middle school youngsters, about the dangers of drugs, but not just on television, that beautiful Partnership for Drug-Free America work, we're also going to be on the Internet, radio, print media, a very sophisticated five-year effort.
BATTISTA: So it's a saturation campaign for the most part?
MCCAFFREY: We're going to try and talk to every young person four times a week in prime time access.
BATTISTA: OK, now how will you know that this kind of an ad is getting to the people it needs to reach?
MCCAFFREY: We're going to have to evaluate it. We went out to 12 test cities in the last four months and ran these ads, a $20 million effort, saw dramatic feedback of 500 percent increase in telephone calls to these community coalitions, which is really the heart and soul of what we're doing. We think it will work, and we're going to have to evaluate it, though, step by step.
BATTISTA: What do you think now of critics who say, "How about taking the $2 billion and spending it elsewhere?"
MCCAFFREY: Well, one of the nice things is we don't have to make an either/or determination. We've increased the amount of money in drug prevention activities by more than 15 percent just in the coming year. We're going to do a lot of things. We're going to support boys and girls clubs, Pride, DARE Program, a lot of efforts to try and engage young people after school, between 3:00 P.M. and 7:00 P.M. and on weekends and in the summer.
BATTISTA: Let me ask you something. You've got a gold bracelet on your wrist.
BATTISTA: And there is special significance to that. Could you tell us about that?
MCCAFFREY: Well, this is a very special thing. It's Tish Elizabeth Smith's (ph) memory bracelet. She died in her first year at college, this beautiful young woman, a straight "A" student. Her mother is here today, Deborah Padgett Barr, and we're going to talk to her of an overdose of heroin which she took smoking, probably one of her first drug uses in her life. It's a tremendous reminder to people like me of why we're doing this.
BATTISTA: Let me talk to Mrs. Barr. You're right, she's right behind you here in our audience. And I see you have pictures of your daughter. Can you share her story with us?
DEBORAH PADGETT BARR, MOTHERS WITHOUT CHILDREN: Tish was 18. She had been a very good student in high school. She graduated an honor roll student, went off to college. I encouraged her to take college classes outside of the city, and she would say jokingly, "Mommy, I'm not big enough to leave you." But just a few months later, she left me forever.
With the end of her high school days and the beginning of college, there were new people in her life, new situations and challenges. And I think Tish's need to fit in outweighed the logic she used to have. She was very anti-drug as a child.
The new friends in her life gave her some drugs, and she started out smoking marijuana in the fall. And I don't think she got the message that I got as a child. That's why this campaign is very, very important. Just like we would immunize our children against measles or diphtheria, this is an opportunity to take information vaccine all across our country and save our children's lives.
BATTISTA: Let me bring in Dr. Larry Alexander now, because unfortunately, Dr. Alexander, you see quite a number of cases just like this, don't you?
DR. LARRY ALEXANDER, BAYLOR MEDICAL CENTER: Unfortunately, we do.
BATTISTA: Can you tell us about a few of those?
ALEXANDER: Well, even just this past weekend, we had two overdoses in the hospital that I work in now. And I have changed hospitals since really becoming involved in this. And it's just an example of how this is beginning to spread throughout the entire metroplex areas. I don't think any suburban area is safe anymore.
And I agree with Mrs. Barr. I think many of these kids who are trying this are doing it to fit in because their friends are doing it, because they want to belong. And unfortunately, many of them, when they're trying heroin this time, aren't aware that the chieva (ph) that they're using is truly heroin.
BATTISTA: All right, let me take a couple of questions here from the audience. Jennifer, go ahead.
JENNIFER: I just wondered why the money wouldn't have been split more between community-based programs and programs that work from the ground up, as well as the sort of top down media campaign. It seems like often, children are affected by their peers and what's around them and their environment as much as they're affected by what they see sort of far off in the media. And I was wondering if there would be a way for the money to be allocated both from the top down and bottom up.
MCCAFFREY: I think your point is right on target. This is an either/or proposition. Tremendous increases in funding, three years in a row, have been the biggest drug budgets in history. The amount of money that's actually going to this piece of it, the youth media strategy campaign, is under one percent of the total.
So we don't have to choose. We're going to support broad-based drug prevention programs, including things like safe and drug-free schools money. So I think you're quite right. We have to build community coalitions if we expect to make any progress in this.
BATTISTA: Let me scoot over here real quick. We do have to take a quick break, and when we come back, a man who says the drug war is a dirty, rotten, miserable failure. We'll be back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: My brother nearly died from a cocaine habit. And I've asked myself a thousand times: What kind of fool was I that I did not know this was going on?
You know, I got myself elected president. I'm supposed to know what people are thinking, what's going on in their minds. How did this happen that I didn't see this coming and didn't stop it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: In today's "New York Times," the first of many anti- drug ads encouraging parents to talk to their kids about drugs appears. A mother says, "My kid doesn't smoke pot. He's either at school, soccer practice, piano lessons, or at a friend's house." The son says, "I usually get stoned at school, after soccer practice, before piano lessons, or at my friend's house."
BATTISTA: Welcome back, everybody. We are talking about the war on drugs today. Let's take a phone call now from Joe in West Virginia. Joe, go ahead.
JOE: Yes. Over two million people admit to using cannabis in the United States. Roughly 200,000, that's two percent, were caught last year. Conversely, 98 percent were not caught. This to me shows a complete failure of the government's drug policy. The fact is that people who want to use drugs will continue to do so regardless of the laws in place.
BATTISTA: Well, General, we had an Internet message there a few minutes ago, too, someone criticizing the effort because it's going after the users rather than the suppliers.
MCCAFFREY: Of course, what we're talking about today is we're talking about drug prevention, focusing on young people in middle school years, and reducing the likelihood of using cigarettes, alcohol, the most dangerous drug affecting our children, and marijuana. That's 90 percent of the drug abuse problem. And it produces the four million chronic addicts in our country today. So prevention is the heart and soul of this strategy.
At the same time, we've got to recognize that we want to support local law enforcement. We want high rates of social rejection of drugs, and law enforcement is part of that equation.
BATTISTA: I thought it was interesting a few moments ago when Deborah, whose daughter overdosed on heroin trying it the first time, you said that she was brought up who was very anti-drug as a child and obviously was getting that message from those around her but then tried drugs anyway. So, I mean -- Crystal, go ahead.
BARR: I'm not sure that I adequately prepared my daughter for the drugs she would be facing. The drugs of today are not the same drugs that I grew up with, and I did not understand -- For example, I didn't know that kids were smoking heroin. My image of a heroin user did not fit my daughter, so I didn't prepare her for that. I think in her mind, smoking heroin must have seemed much less serious
BATTISTA: The PSA we're looking at now as you talk is one, as a matter of fact, that addresses parents and the fact that they should talk to their children about drugs.
All right, joining us now is Mike Gray, a writer and filmmaker. He authored the film, "China Syndrome," among others. His latest book is entitled, "Drug Crazy, How We Got Into this Mess and How We Can Get Out."
Mike, welcome to the show. Let me ask you, first of all, how you even got into this topic. I mean, how did this book even come about?
MIKE GRAY, DRUG WAR CRITIC: Well, I've been aware of the fact, as I think 75 percent of the American people are aware of the fact, that the drug war is a failure. And so six years ago, I decided to start digging into this. And the deeper I got, the more horrified I became. And this book was the result of that.
I tried to cover the entire drug war and then shrink it down to 200 pages. So it's basically a two subway ride read, and you can get through the whole thing and understand what went wrong and why.
BATTISTA: Well, tell us if you can in a capsule.
GRAY: Well, in capsule, we didn't have a drug problem in this country prior to 1914. These wounds are totally self-inflicted. And the terrible tragedy that happened to Mrs. Barr and her daughter and
the stories that Larry is talking about, the emergency room heroin overdoses, this all occurred during the most stringent prohibition this planet has ever seen. We enacted it in 1914. At that time, we did not have a drug problem. There were a couple of hundred thousand addicts in the country, and there was no teenage addiction. The teenage addicts were absolutely unheard of.
Prior to 1914, for all practical purposes, children didn't have access to drugs. Now, of course, they can get anything they want from the neighbor's kid.
BATTISTA: What do you think of this new ad campaign, Mike?
GRAY: Well, I'm strongly in favor of prevention messages going out to teenagers. The problem with this ad campaign, like the previous ad campaigns, is it's based upon very flawed premises.
Let me tell you, about three years ago when I was in the middle of the research for my book, "Drug Crazy," I got a call from one of my son's former high school buddies. And he said, "I understand you're working on a book about drugs. I need help. I'm a heroin addict." Well, I was blown away. And I couldn't understand what had happened to this kid who was, you know, had a scholarship to college and was on the way to a brilliant career as an artist. And I asked him, "How did you stumble into this hole?" And he said, "Well, they lied to us about marijuana, and I figured they were lying to us about this stuff as well."
Well, it turns out we weren't lying about heroin. We were telling the truth. But how is this kid supposed to know? And that's the underlying flaw that permeates this campaign and others is in the attempt to rope marijuana in with these hard drugs: heroin and cocaine.
BATTISTA: So you're worried the kids won't take these ads seriously?
GRAY: Well, the problem is in attempting to equate marijuana with the evil of heroin, the message that we send them is that heroin is no more dangerous than marijuana. And that's a terrible message to send to these kids, and we are now reaping the message -- the harvest that that message sowed.
MCCAFFREY: Bobbie, I wonder if I could add something.
BATTISTA: Yeah, go ahead, General.
MCCAFFREY: I think Mike actually has a lot of good points, one of which I would certainly underscore is that we've got to read history. And Professor Dave Musto up at Yale University is a good place to start, probably our prominent historian about drug abuse in America.
GRAY: That's where I started.
MCCAFFREY: We've had a terrible drug problem in America during the early part of this century. Cocaine and opiate use was
widespread. We had a terrible drug use problem in the 1870s. We've been here before. And what happens when we get energized and reject this substance abuse, it goes down. So, you know, to some extent, Mike and I may agree on it.
Now second thing you've got to clearly argue is that when I'm asked what the most dangerous drug in America is, I don't talk about methamphetamines and heroin. I talk about a 12-year-old smoking pot regularly and using beer.
And Bobbie, the reason we say that is that when we look at this Columbia University data, Joe Califano and his associates, a 12-year- old smoking pot is 79 times more likely to end up as a chronic drug abuser than one who isn't. So gateway behavior is a threat.
BATTISTA: Let's ask our medical person to get in on that. Dr. Alexander.
ALEXANDER: Thank you. I was just about to jump in on that. I agree with a lot of these points that are being made. I do like the fact that we're going to be doing this campaign where people are actually able to see some of these things on television.
The problem I have with it, I think, is sometimes it's off target for the kids. They have been hit with so many different things on the media that many times they'll tune these things out. And the message that they get from their friends is that this isn't bad. The message that they sometimes get from their parents who smoke, who drink, who may or may not use marijuana is: "This isn't bad." And then when they do eventually get around to talking to them about the heroin or something other that's harder, then they may not often put this all together.
And I think that we need to be working harder to educate these younger kids. The general mentioned that many of these kids now are ten, 12 years old are smoking pot. I have seen that, and it's very, very frustrating when they come in. It's really frightening when you have an 11-year-old who is so drunk that they can't stand up. And you know that they're getting it either at school or after school. And their parents come in and deny it, and then parents have to leave to go out and smoke a cigarette. I think this is really bad behavior.
BATTISTA: We have to interrupt for just a second. We will continue our discussion here with our guests. We have to go back to the newsroom now and Natalie Allen.
(BREAKING NEWS COVERAGE)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: We work more with countries where drugs are grown and processed to try to stop the drugs from coming into the United States in the first place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BATTISTA: And welcome back, everybody, to TALKBACK LIVE. The topic is drugs today. Let's take a look at a couple of faxes from Mark: "The government is spending money on an ad campaign that causes most of our youth to go into convulsive fits of laughter. The kids know that these ads are largely comprised of half truths and fabrications. The fact has sabotaged our credibility as adults and authority figures."
And from Thomas in Arkansas: "Drug prohibition can never work for the simple reason that it creates a criminal black market that is impossible to control. It is time to end a brain dead, self-defeating policy that causes a hundred times as much trouble as the drugs themselves could ever do." I guess we would have to ask Thomas what the alternative is. But anyway, let's go to Peter in our audience.
PETER: Great. I'm a New York City school teacher in Staten Island, New York, and I have found that one of the most difficult problems in discussing drugs -- I had the opportunity to teach a sociology course this year, and many of the students said to me, "The president of the United States has been on MTV, and he told us that he smoked pot. And therefore, we can do it, too."
And they even asked me as their teacher, "Did you ever smoke pot?" And I said, "No, I've never used drugs. I didn't use them in school. I still don't use them today," and they don't believe me. They say, "If the president has done it, why can't we?" And I just feel, General, that we've taken a great step backwards as opposed to the Nancy Reagan campaigns which stated, "Just say no to drugs," that told kids that they could say no and they did have an option. What are your feelings on that?
McCAFFREY: Well, you know, what we've got to recognize in our country is that one out of three adult Americans has used an illegal drug: marijuana, cocaine, LSD. We had a revolution in the 1970s which almost wrecked America, our economic efficiency, our homes, the armed forces. It was a disaster. Those 72 million Americans, the Speaker of the House, and others, it depends on how old you are and where you were during that period of time whether you encountered this. But they've rejected drug use. And so you've got people like our president, who is a great father and a parent who doesn't want his daughter using drugs and doesn't want a society that's stoned and dazed. So I think all of us shouldn't say, "Let's look back at the 1970s." Let's say, "Who commits to creating a drug-free country."
BATTISTA: Well, maybe it doesn't go far enough with these ads. Let's ask Dr. Alexander why he has been nicknamed Dr. Vomit, for one thing, because, Doctor, you do take a bit more graphic approach to this, don't you?
ALEXANDER: I do. I feel a lot of times that these ad campaigns really don't do enough for kids. And after having been through quite a few situations that really just made me angry and actually really hurt me where I had to be the one to call parents to tell them their child had died of a heroin overdose, I decided I wanted to do something about it. And I was asked by the schools to come talk to the kids about drugs.
And the first time I went, they didn't seemingly get anything out of it because I went in my suit and tie and I talked to them as a physician. I changed my tactics after that and started dressing down. I dressed in blue jeans, a shirt, tennis shoes, and I started telling them the stories about what I did in the emergency department, what I was seeing. And I found that they began to listen. And I started relating some of the stories about some of the kids that they knew who had died.
And in the end, I wound up finding that the thing that really got them was the dramatic approach using the example of what it felt like to die from heroin. And most people who die from heroin die because they stop breathing. And most of the time the reason they stop breathing is because they vomited due to the narcotic effect of the drug. They swallow all the vomit back into their lungs and basically drown on their own vomit. And that seemingly struck a large nerve with most of the kids I talked with.
And as the word got around, the kids starting talking more about the vomit doctor. And that's how that name came about. But it seems to work.
BATTISTA: And Mike Gray, I read in the research also that you were expounding a bit on how they do things overseas, certainly places in Europe.
GRAY: Well, Bobbie, the Dutch don't have this problem. I mean, the Dutch realized a long time ago that a certain small segment of the youths are going to experiment with drugs regardless of what we do. And they felt that it was better for them to experiment with marijuana than with heroin and cocaine. So they erected a barrier between these drugs. They made marijuana available in coffee shops to anyone over 18. And as a consequence, they have an aging heroin population. In other words, the number of the heroin users in Holland are getting older and older, which means that they are not getting new recruits.
General McCaffrey informs us that here in the United States, the greatest jump in use is among eighth graders. And this is during this incredibly stringent prohibition.
The Dutch have a much more tolerant policy, and their results are better than ours across the board.
MCCAFFREY: Mike, if I may, let me say again, I think we ought to agree to disagree on the facts. The Dutch experience is not something I would suggest we want to model. It's been an unmitigated disaster...
GRAY: General, General, General, let me...
MCCAFFREY: Let me finish, if I may, Mike.
GRAY: OK, all right.
MCCAFFREY: I would argue instead... Let me just take the title of your book, "Drug Crazy." It seems to me you've got to be crazy to
use drugs or to make it easier for young people to do that. And that's essentially what some of us argue the Dutch have tried to do.
GRAY: General, let me caution you that your deputy, Jim McDunna (ph), told me that the situation in the Netherlands was a disaster during one of our recent debates. So yesterday, I checked with the Dutch embassy in Washington. And hopefully, they are monitoring this broadcast, and you may get a diplomatic protest from the Dutch embassy because they are quite concerned...
MCCAFFREY: They've done them from the French, also, I might add, diplomatic protests, and the Germans and others who are concerned about their example in Europe.
GRAY: General, let me finish. The French have a higher addiction rate than the Dutch. We have a higher addiction rate than the Dutch. And the worse thing that we have is a decreasing age among the heroin users.
MCCAFFREY: Actually, you know, I probably would again dispute you on the facts. The rates of drug abuse among young people in Holland have tended to go up dramatically during this period of time, while ours were going down. So I really don't agree with what you're saying.
GRAY: Bobbie, I hope for the sake of settling this argument once and for all you will check with the Dutch embassy, because the Dutch embassy is going to issue a formal protest against this...
BATTISTA: Mike, unfortunately, hold on to that thought and others. We do have to hit a break very quickly here. We'll be back.
TERRI: Yes, I'd like to respond to the gentleman who asked the question, is the fight on drugs -- is it going to be harder now that the president has used drugs. Well, I'd like to answer that question. I feel that the answer to that question is no, simple because we're not only here to preach the drug-free message to our young adults, we're also here to teach them that they need to learn from their mistakes.
Now, I believe if the president of the United States can actually admit on national TV that he has used pot, but now, he's here to fight against it -- now I do believe if students, like the gentleman said early, if the students may look up to the president, and say he has used it, why can't we. If they can look up to him to say that, why can't they look up to him now being that he has made a mistake and say well, he admitted that he made a mistake, why can't we stand up now and say, hey, we don't want to do this.
BATTISTA: And welcome back everyone, I'm Bobbie Battista, we're talking about your children and drugs today. And right before we went to the break, Mike Gray, you made a couple references to legalization. And I know Dr. Alexander wanted to comment on that.
DR. ALEXANDER: Yes, Mike, I just waned to say I am against legalization for a number of reasons. I think legalizing it takes some of the money aspect out of it, but you've got to realize there's a lot of other things involved -- the emotional, the psychological, the physical addictions that can occur. And legalizing is not going to take care of anything.
In regards, the General's comments, I do think that this is on the rise in all levels. I'm a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians -- that's 20,000 physicians across the country, and I've been talking with my colleagues and we're seeing this in the rise everywhere. It's not just in suburban areas anymore, it's spreading out to rural areas. It's not just in the inner cities. And legalizing this is not going to take care of it. I really think we've got to educate these kids more.
GRAY: Absolutely, I agree with you that we need to educate.
MCCAFFREY: You're right on target, I think doctor.
GRAY: Let me say the problem with this approach is there are basically only three ways to get a handle on this problem, to get drugs under control and out of the hands of children, which I think we all agree is the primary objective. First, you can either have the federal government control the distribution through careful regulation and taxation to cover rehabilitation of people who fall off the wagon, or you can turn it over to private industry with a regulatory controls and taxation or you can leave it in the hands of the mob.
Now mob doesn't check for ID and what I want to know, is why -- what reason do we possibly have for leaving drug distribution in the hands of the mob? We did not have this problem prior to 1914, when we passed this prohibition law.
MCCAFFREY: You know Bobbie, I wonder if I could interject.
BATTISTA: I don't think it matters when we had this problem or when it started.
MCCAFFREY: Let me add to Mike's point.
GRAY: Well, there is cause and effect, you have to understand.
BATTISTA: We're dealing with the problem now. We want to deal with the problem now.
MCCAFFREY: When I hear people say, let's make it look like alcohol and tobacco, I'm astonished. These two mildly addictive substances -- alcohol kills 150,000 people a year. Tobacco kills 440,000 people. They're available, they're legal, they're widely used. Thank God we're cutting down on both those dangerous drugs but we certainly don't want to add the power of commercial interest to hawking methamphetamine and crack cocaine. That's silly.
GRAY: That's an absurd idea, general. Nobody is talking about advertising amphetamines to children. The situation that we have now is children have access to this stuff. Not only have we created a
situation where children have access to drugs, we've created a situation where they have to be the front line runners in a marketplace so dangerous they have to be armed with automatic weapons.
And I have to tell you, I interviewed a prosecutor in one of the lead prosecutors in night drug court in Chicago, and he said if you want to use Vietnam as a metaphor for the drug war, we're at the point where the helicopters are leaving the embassy roof.
BATTISTA: All right let's go to our audience now. James, go ahead.
JAMES: The gentleman from Los Angeles, I'm hearing in his solution that if we take it off the streets and put it in the private industry of the government that might help solve the problem. I have friends who have been in -- involved in violent crimes and have gotten shot because someone was high, not because they got it legally or illegally.
People want to be high. They're committing crimes while they're high. We need to address the problems that come from people using drugs, not where they're getting the drugs from, how they're getting the drugs. The fact that they are getting high and they're committing crimes and it's hurting our society.
GRAY: That's a fundamental mistake by the way in the assumption -- Al Capone did not kill people because he was drunk. Al Capone killed people because they were infringing on his market franchise or because they were late on payments. He had to settle all business arrangements violently because he couldn't very well call the cops.
BATTISTA: Let me get a comment from Dr. Alexander then on what people are capable of doing under the influence of drugs.
DR. ALEXANDER: I think people are capable of doing anything at anytime and I think drugs will lower inhibitions and allow feelings and actions to occur that might not always occur when people are thinking clearly. The problem is, I think, that we're wanting to find a point to put the blame on. This is a multifactorial problem. It's not that you're going to find one problem and that's going to take care of it. We're going to solve it in this fashion.
Education has got to be the important thing, but taking it from the government, taking it from the mob, putting it in private industry. We've already seen a lot of these haven't worked in any fashion. I don't know that I have the right answer, but I think we've got to change the way we're doing it now, otherwise we're going to lose the battle all together.
BATTISTA: Let me take a comment from Tom and then we've got to go to break.
TOM: My comment is, wake up America. You've got 68 million young people that are strong, caring, and capable. Let's use them as teachers to their peers.
BATTISTA: We'll take a break here. When we come back, is it possible to have a drug-free America?
BATTISTA: Welcome back to TALKBACK LIVE. Let's take a phone call. Darryl from Georgia's on the line with us. And Darryl, you don't necessarily feel this is a national problem?
DARRYL: No, I don't. I believe that the problem is that we try to make it into a national problem and we try to take everyone's tax money and things like this, when not most of us -- most of us don't have a drug problem, and we shouldn't have to pay for other people's stupidity. It should be controlled by the family and friends of individual drug users, and they should be held responsible for their own stupid actions and not the whole nation held responsible for one person's mistakes.
BATTISTA: All right, Darryl, thanks very much. General, I'm just curious as to whether we're spitting in the wind to some degree. Is it possible for us to have a drug-free America?
MCCAFFREY: No. But on the other hand, in 1979, 14 percent of the country were using drugs. Today, it's 6 percent. We're sure we can cut it by half. We do have something at stake. You know, your caller is quite correct. Most of us don't use drugs. Fourteen million Americans do and they're causing 16,000 dead a year and what we say is $110 billion in damages, so he and I and you, we've all got something at stake and someone else's child who's dead from a drug overdose.
BATTISTA: Mike Gray, do you agree with that, that it's not possible to have a drug-free America?
GRAY: We've been at it now for 80 years, and we've made the problem steadily worse year by year. And while General McCaffrey says that since 1980 we've cut casual marijuana and cocaine use by half. That's true, but look what we gave up in return. Prior to 1980 we had never even heard of crack cocaine. We had not heard of -- the chief of police of Omaha tells us that in 1985 the crips came out from Los Angeles and discovered this fertile market their in Omaha. A few months latter the Bloods discovered it and all of the sudden they have gang warfare and crack in Omaha. I don't consider that a success.
BATTISTA: All right, Rod.
ROD: Yes, I have to say that I agree with the general that I don't think there could ever be a drug-free America, because just like in the prohibition back in the early 1900s when they were making alcohol legal and people were still smuggling it in and using it, and we have the same problem today. So until everybody comes together and has some unity and try to stop this and realize that drugs are destroying our communities and destroying our homes and families, then we'll never be able to stop it.
BATTISTA: And Jocilyn.
JOCILYN: Yes, my question is for the general. Everyone talks about the prevention and prevention. What about those people who have
already done drugs and are trying rehabilitate themselves. What are we doing to help those people?
MCCAFFREY: Boy, I tell, that is right on the money, because we've got four million Americans who are chronically addicted to drugs. We've got probably half the drug treatment capacity we need. Secretary Donna Shalala, Dr. Alan Leshner, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, and others, are pumping more money into creating the drug treatment capacity we need. In particular, we have to hook it to the criminal justice system.
But one of the other things that Attorney General Janet Reno is doing, we're starting up drug courts all over the country. There were 12 of them three years ago, today there are over 200 -- before we leave office we hope there will be over a thousand -- where we put people addicted to illegal drugs into mandated treatment, get them back to their families and keep them from prison. That's where we're going with this problem.
ALEXANDER: Bobbie, this is larry.
BATTISTA: Oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead, Larry.
ALEXANDER: I have a problem with that. Hooking this into the criminal system is not going to solve anything. Addiction is a physical problem. It's just like diabetes, hypertension, things that you're going to have to live with every day. I do agree with general that I think we're not doing enough for rehab. I have kids that we try to get in when they come in in an overdose situation, and we can't find placement.
There's not an open bed. Or, the get accepted -- there insurance will cover it three days, or 10 days; that's not enough to get them off of their problem -- get them through this. They've got to learn to deal with this, to cope with it. You can't do that in 10 days. And until this country realizes that when we have someone who's addicted and has a problem and we're willing to fight with them to help them get rid of this problem, we're not ever going to hook this. There will never be a drug-free America.
MCCAFFREY: Larry, I think we're probably agreeing with each other. I think you're right on target. When I say hook it into the criminal justice system, Joe Califano, of Columbia University and his colleagues, think that probably 50 percent of the people behind bars, the 1.7 million who are there, have some sort of an alcohol or drug problem, maybe as high at 80 percent. So we've simply got to get that group, who are in there for burglary, robbery, other crimes of violence. We've got to get them into drug treatment, or we can never return them to their community. That's what Secretary Shalala and I and Janet Reno are working on.
BATTISTA: Yes, Mike -- You know what, we have to take a quick break, but I promise you the first word when we come back. And, as we go to the break, we have a question also from the Internet. From Robert, who asks: What makes this approach more effective than
previous drug war approaches? We'll try to look at that too, when we come back.
BATTISTA: All right. We're back, and in the short amount of time that we have -- General, we went into the break with an Internet person asking us how this particular approach to fighting the drug war is any different than previous ones?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I think one of things that's different is we've got a more coherent approach. We understand that it can't be just law enforcement. It has to be drug treatment programs. It has to be fundamentally dependent upon prevention efforts. We have to work in cooperation with the international community.
So let me just close by coming back to this issue of the youth media campaign. We're going to provide scientifically, ethically, sound advice to young people, and let them make their own decisions. We're going to be on the Internet, radio, TV, print media. We're going to stay at it for five years. We care about children, and we're convinced that our sales force, which is parents, doctors, ministers and coaches, can get out there with our message.
BATTISTA: OK, and a last quick word from Dr. Alexander and Mike.
ALEXANDER: I agree with the general. I think it's going to take a combined effort, and I think more people who are experienced in this need to get out and speak, so that kids understand our viewpoint on this, and they can make an informed decision. Our kids aren't stupid, but if they don't have all the facts, they may make the wrong choice, and if they do, they may not survive.
BATTISTA: All right, Mike -- about 15 seconds.
GRAY: I'm in lock step with the general on the issue of treatment for addicts in prison. We have 50,000 addicts here in prison in California, and only 400 in treatment. But I question whether or not enforced treatment will help. I was addicted to tobacco for many years and like all chronic addictions I had to quit five times before it finally took. But I wouldn't have been helped at all by being in jail in between those times.
BATTISTA: All right, we are out of time. We thank all of our guests today, and for you, too, joining us. I'm Bobbie Battista. We'll see you again tomorrow on TALKBACK LIVE.