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"Levey Live" archives

Q&A With Barry McCaffrey

Tuesday, July 20, 1999

"Levey Live" appears each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It's your chance to talk directly to to key Washington Post reporters and editors, local officials and people in the news.

Bob Levey
Bob Levey
Craig Cola/
Bob's guest today is Barry McCaffrey, who was made the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in February 1996 by a unanimous vote of the U.S. Senate. He is a member of the President's Cabinet, the President's Drug Policy Council and the National Security Council for drug-related issues. Before becoming ONDCP Director, McCaffrey was the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces Southern Command and has served overseas for thirteen years, including four combat tours.

Barry McCaffrey
McCaffrey was the most highly decorated and youngest four star general in the U.S. Army when he retired from active duty. He has received numerous awards and honors, including two "Distinguished Service Cross" medals (the nation's second highest medal for valor) and three "Purple Heart" medals. McCaffrey is a graduate of the Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, U.S. Military Academy and American University. He also attended Harvard University's National Security Program and, at West Point, he taught American government, national security studies and comparative politics.

Here is a transcript of today's session:

Bob Levey: As you've said so often, the vast majority of the country opposes legalization of drugs. But why doesn't everybody? It's crystal clear that legalizing drugs would debase people, tempt children and make it much more likely that the guy next to me on the Beltway is stoned. What's so hard to see here?

Barry McCaffrey: There are 270 million Americans and the overwhelming majority of us don't use drugs. Unfortunately about 6% of the population does and that equates to 13 million people. This group suffers enormously and causes great damage to communities across America. 52,000 people a year die from this scourge and the economic loss is $110 billion a year. We won't legalize Schedule 1 drugs. It simply won't happen. Too many parents, pediatricians, employers, coaches, drug treatment experts and educators know that this would be a nutty option causing even greater damage to American life. We should trust in the good judgement of the American people.

Fairfax, VA: Gen. McCaffrey,

I have numerous family members that reside in Colombia who live in constant fear of being kidnapped by Marxist rebels who use drug money and ransom payments to support their crusade. How closely linked are the drug trade and these terrorist rebel groups? Will eradicating coca production in Colombia get rid of the problem?

Barry McCaffrey: Colombia is facing a tragic emergency with massive internal attack by 15,000-plus FARC Narco-guerrillas, 5,000-plus ELN Narco-guerrillas and 5,000 or more so-called para-military criminals, all of whom are financed by massive infusions of cash from the drug trade ($600 million+). The violence and corruption pose a corrosive menace to every Democratic institution of society. President Pastrana and his Administration are beleaguered and trying to confront drug criminal organizations, internal terrorism, a disaster in the economy and a population grown sick of constant, mindless violence. We are actively working to support Colombian leadership with resources, political support and regional cooperation. Colombia is the source of 80% of the drugs (cocaine and heroin) that come into America. We should support Colombia, not only because they are a traditional ally and an important economic partner, but because it's in our absolute self-interest.

Fairfax, VA: Mr. McCaffrey,

It seems like kids are getting valuable anti-drug messages through the ONDCP ads I've seen on TV and other programs. How can parents help you really turn the drug problem around so that we can get drug use to stop in this country?

Barry McCaffrey: 80% of American youngsters between the ages 12 to 17 have never touched an illegal drug. They leave the sixth grade strongly opposed to smoking, alcohol abuse and illegal drugs. Our superb DARE program certainly is a key to this healthy state of affairs. However, we have a serious problem. Children encounter and begin using drugs in middle school years. By the time they are high school seniors, roughly half of them have experimented with an illegal drug and one out of four are past-month users. In the last two years, we have seen evidence that the prior increase in drug, alcohol and cigarette use has finally been arrested and indeed has shown statistically significant, but minor decreases. The heart and soul of the prevention effort is what parents tell their children about drug use. The message must be coherent and scientifically valid from kindergarten to the 12th grade that "in our family, in our school, in this workplace, we don't use drugs."

Roselle, IL: You have repeatedly said that "the drug war" is a poor metaphor, and that we should think as drug problems as cancer. Yet, your whole career has been in the military. If it's really not a war, and it's a medical problem, shouldn't a doctor be leading the fight, not a soldier?

Barry McCaffrey: The problem of drug abuse in America is one of monumental proportions (Each year 52,000 dead, a third of all industrial accidents, a third of all AIDS cases, $110 billion in economic loss. Columbia University data also suggests that 50-80% of the 1.8 million behind bars have a drug or alcohol related problem.)

Many of us believe that we can more effectively organize our conceptual thinking about this issue by using the metaphor of a cancer affecting American communities. The drug issue is a medical concern of huge proportions, a criminal justice issue of great consequence, an international affairs issue involving massive threat to Democratic institutions and a social issue involving educators, parents and local law enforcement. The metaphor of cancer allows us to focus on prevention and treatment as the central components of our strategy. However, we still believe that strong law enforcement is vital to our effort.

My contributions are intended to focus on the organization of our federal effort among the 14 Cabinet officers who deal with some aspect of this issue. In addition, I act as the point of contact for NGO's, local and state government, the international community and community coalitions. My background of public service involves a lot of experience in public and international policy. It's also relevant that I spent my entire life successfully dealing with young Americans. I'm very proud to be associated with my principal partners Janet Reno, Donna Shalala, and Dick Riley as we put together sensible, long-term drug policy.

Toledo, Ohio: General, would it not be more honest to say that 52,000 people die each year as a result of sales disputes in an unregulated market, because of impure products, because of the false and misleading scare tactics that do not discuss drug use honestly, and because those who are with users in trouble are afraid to seek help because of the fear of arrest? [edited for space]

Barry McCaffrey: It's difficult to not be outraged at the enormous damage done by drug abuse in America. The devastating impact of substance abuse on physical health, family life, the work force, and the educational development of young people is unbelievable. 4.1 million Americans are chronically addicted. They are desperately sick, normally unemployed, living dangerous, immoral lives, alienated from their families and filled with shame and despair. Their problem is that these substances (poly drug abuse, heroin, cocaine, meth, pot, alcohol) have changed their neuro-chemistry. Their brains now operate in a very different way. Treatment can reverse this process. Pure drugs, a physically safe drug using environment, and more ready access to drugs does not help reduce the problem. Our experience is that it increases the problem. The drugs are harmful and dangerous. That's why we focus on prevention and education. Visit a drug treatment center and ask an addict in recovery about drug abuse. They are desperate to escape from this terrible brain condition.

Portland, Oregon: Why is it, that our gov't. continues to push policy that is based on punishment instead of treatment? It seems that the federal and state gov't.s have sidestepped all the real issues in these matters. We know treatment is better and more humane, we know that prohibition has never succeeded anywhere with anything, so why not enact sane policies around the legality of these substances and the treatment for those who have problems with them?

Barry McCaffrey: Please look at our 1999 National Drug Policy posted on our homepage at www. In the last four budget years with the bipartisan support of Congress, we have increased federal drug prevention dollars by 55%. We have increased drug treatment resources by 26%. We have a massive increase in federal support (36%) for drug research through the brilliant work of Dr. Alan Leshner and NIDA.

At the same time, we all recognize that the central component of lowering drug abuse in America is to support strong community drug prevention programs aimed at reducing gateway drug taking behavior by adolescents ages 9 to 17. Each teenage compulsive drug user will cost American society more than two million dollars over their life time. This is why Dick Riley and I so strongly support the Safe and Drug Free Schools Program, the Drug Free Communities Program, the Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, the DARE Program, and any other effort to give young people mentored, positive life experiences.

Bob Levey: Teenagers are the key to this whole issue, it seems to me, and they are tremendously susceptible to peer pressure. So why not a continuing effort to have famous teenagers declare drugs to be "uncool?"

Barry McCaffrey: It is clear that youth attitudes about drugs absolutely predicts youth drug taking behavior. The Partnership for A Drug Free America, CASA at Columbia University, Dr. Lloyd Johnston at University of Michigan and certainly, the work of Dr. Carol Kumpfer at CSAT--all argue that attitudes formed during adolescent years are the key to preventing youth drug taking behavior. Our five-year national youth anti-drug media campaign combined with strong community coalition drug prevention programs will support youth attitudes that reject the use of illegal drugs as well as alcohol and tobacco. We look forward to the September 6 launch of our final steady-state phase of the media anti-drug campaign. Go check out run for us by Disney/ABC. Look at AOL under "drug help." Our ads on TV and radio will be in 11 languages. We will focus on separate strategies for 102 media markets. Half the ads are aimed at forming anti-drug attitudes among youth. The other half are aimed at encouraging parent, mentor, care giver involvement in creating positive alternatives for American young people. All of us are very optimistic that in the coming decade, we can continue to redcuce drug abuse in America. Drug use in America has been reduced by 50% since 1979, when it was 14.1% of the population. Today, it's 6%. Our purpose is to reduce drug abuse below 3% of the population--the lowest levels in modern American history. This is achievable.

Bob Levey: That's all we have time for today. Many thanks to our guest, Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey. Be sure to join us next Tuesday, Jan. 27, at the same time, when our scheduled guest is the mayor of Washington, D.C., Anthony Williams. And don't forget the anything-goes version of our show. It's called "Levey Live: Speaking Freely." It appears Fridays from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time.

© 1999 The Washington Post Company

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