Wisely, the president is taking time selecting leaders for remaining senior posts, methodically vetting, setting expectations, assuring quality and loyalty. Among posts likely to be nominated early in 2018 — those that affect the nation’s drug crisis. America needs that crisis leadership, now.
At present, key unfilled posts include heads of the Office of Justice Programs, Office of National Drug Control Policy (known as the Drug Czar) and Drug Enforcement Administration. There are others at Justice, Health and Human Services, State and Defense that relate to this crisis.
Naturally, President Trump’s FY19 budget will reflect changes. The administration may return to the Reagan-era model, a strong attorney general and head of Health and Human Services, rather than dominant, Cabinet-level White House Drug Czar. That is fine.
They may migrate supply reduction programs to Justice’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, place management of the National Drug Control Policy’s high intensity drug trafficking areas with Justice and move its Drug Free Communities Act grants, now at the Office of National Drug Control Policy over to HHS.
They may push supply reduction in source countries, especially China, Colombia, Mexico and Afghanistan. They may ramp up maritime interdiction, electronic and physical border protection, monitoring of the U.S. Postal Service.
They may reinstate drug prevention programs nationwide, expand drug testing in schools, monitor the internet and elevate drug treatment access and accountability. Evidence-based thinking may push drug courts and Justice Reinvestment Initiatives, now used in 27 states to drop recidivism.
All this is fine, but whatever the shape, momentum must be built — as in the 1980s — to reverse the drug crisis. So far, we do not have it. In the teeth of this declared “national emergency,” we must do more than we have done in the past. We have to halt growing addiction and overdoses, stop the spread of drug trafficking and end the reemergence of violent crime.
State attorneys general bringing lawsuits against offending pharmaceutical companies and unethical doctors is a start, but hardly enough to stop heroin and Fentanyl traffickers.
To reverse this national crisis, which claimed 60,000 lives last year, we have to own it. Mr. Trump gets it — but there needs to be someone who can handle it from top-down, given the multitude of other things the president has to contend with as the leader of the free world.
Today, an estimated one in four families is affected by substance abuse, marijuana addiction to OxyContin overdose, sudden death to heroin, Fentanyl, or poly-drug use, family break up to crime and accident victims. There is no state or municipality that does not face this problem, a fact with political consequences.
Three economic realities also describe the problem. Drug demand levels drive supply, but drug supply levels drive demand also; the more drugs available, more they are used, and more addiction grows.
Drugs start as a lure, end up pulling the user in, snapping hard — the classic rat trap. This means we need leadership in deterrence and supply reduction, border protection and law enforcement, as well as accountable treatment and accessible prevention.
Legalizing any drug is pernicious, destined to amplify use, heartache and failure. Elevated drug use elevates addiction numbers; addictions are easy to get, and hard to break, whether marijuana or heroin. They are also costly, to the individual, family and state.
Pot legalization is now boosting teenage use and addiction, drugged driving, drug-related crimes, foreign organization trafficking, money laundering, and conditioning of receptors to addiction for accelerated addiction with other drugs. No community wants this. And the data from Colorado’s experiment bears out the harsh truth.
Empirically, drug-related crimes rise alongside availability, for a simple reason. Roughly six times as much crime is committed by those using drugs as by those seeking money to buy drugs. Addicts need drugs, so as they run out of money, they begin to steal.
Until governments give away 100 percent pure drugs, that is, legalize and offer limitless supply to every addict, black markets, drug- crime and overdoses will persist. Deterring these three requires leadership. Legalization is bankruptcy by another name — physically, fiscally and spiritually.
All this comes back to leadership — we need it. We are a nation in crisis, and coordinated intervention must be at the federal level. It must be swift and effective in knocking down supply and demand, hitting international and domestic providers, putting traffickers in prison and on notice, confronting China and Mexico and ending our own habit.
America is ready for healing, sick with and sick of drug abuse, overwrought by drug crime and overdoses, tired of losing 60,000 citizens — many very young citizens — a year. Average Americans, in Trump states and nationwide, do not want to read about one more child gone, another set of parents, circle of siblings, quartet of grandparents, and crowd of friends in shock, life snuffed out.
The administration must pick and empower its anti-drug leaders, and help the country bring the fight to those who are poisoning American children one at a time. Together, America can end this crisis. The unification to which the president referred so eloquently in his State of the Union speech can be made real here. America First is great, but first America must be at our best, and that takes beating this crisis — now.
• Robert Charles is a former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement in the George W. Bush administration.
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