Alarmed by fiercely rising drug addiction and crime rates in the city last year -- and the perceived connection between the two -- the seven-year-old D.C. Advisory Committee on Drug Abuse convened a citywide conference last weekend to grapple with the problem.
As the nearly 400 people who attended aired the issues and traded information, it became clear that not all participants, who included city government officials, community representatives and a healthy sampling of young people from local youth groups, had the same perception of the situation. Yet nearly everyone agreed on the diagnosis -- a growing segment of the city's population is sick, and not likely to get better during these hard economic times.
"Herion addiction is one of the fundamental roots of crime in the city," said Dr. Robert L. Dupont, former director of the National institute for Drug Abuse and once known as the czar of the District's drug abuse program. Dupont, who now runs a phobia clinic in Rockville, said the city's crime rate and number of drug overdoses are clear indications of the extent of drug addiction, primarily herion, in the city.
Because the results of heroin use are so destructive and costly to the community, Dupont suggested that the bulk of the quickly shrinking dollars for drug prevention and treatment be primarily aimed at herion use.
The number of drug overdoes climbed to 62 last year, having risen steadily since the five deaths reported by the medical examiner's office in 1973. Dupont says this indicates that there may be as many as 12,000 heroin addicts in the city who are not receiving treatment, according to a drug agency estimate that multiplies the number of drug deaths by 200. There is an accompanying rise in the abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs.Dilaudid, a synthetic heroin-like drug, and Benzedrine, an amphetamine, are often purchased illegally by addicts when heroin is scarce or weak.
Dupont says there have been no teen-age heroin overdoses in the last three years, indicating, he added, that heroin addicts are now reaching their late 20s and 30s, and that the number of new, young users is low.
But Mayor Marion Barry countered that the number of new users has tripled in the past three years and that they are, on the average, younger than before.
"Death isn't the only indiactor of drug use," cautioned Dr. Alyce Gullattee, director of the Institute on Drug Abuse and Addiction at Howard University, who has a reputation for knowing the streets well. There are more young addicts, she said; she has treated some as young as 8 and 9 years old.
"The older addicts are the consumers (now), the youngsters are the new enterpreneurs who sell "the works.'"
Not all of these children began as heroin users, of course. Police report that traces, of course. Police report that traces of PCP or angel dust, a; potent hallucinogen, is found in 64 percent of children arrested, although most of them report having only smoked marijuana. This means, said Gullattee, that many children are using marijuana that has been laced with PCP to make it more potent.
"They are being victimized without their knowledge," Gullattee said, explaining that this establishes an early pattern of addiction. She said the problem remains largely unrecognized because marijuana is considered a soft drug, and there are no appropriate treatment facilities for children.
Janice Diggs, an Alcohol and Drug Abuse Planning Division health analyst, told The Washington Post that law enforcement authorities are policing the problem, but "There's just more (drugs) coming in."
An aggressive program to crack down on drug sales is needed, Dupont concluded, and "that monkey needs to be put on the backs of the federal government."
At the conclusion of the conterence, several workshop groups presented the mayor with recommendations for initiating better coordination between private and public antidrug efforts. The mayor immediately responded to three of the requests.
He promised to put the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Administration's "Drugmobile" back on the road as a prevention/education tool for the District's schoolchildren. In addition, miniprograms to share information form the conference will be planned for presentation around the city.
Barry also promised to "find the funds" to reinstate the city's recently halted urinalysis screening program.
One drug planning division official said the old policy of testing the urine of every person awaiting arraigment on drug charges was expensive, but was a "key source of data" on the incidence and type of drug abuse in the city.
As he closed the conference, the mayor called parent ambivalence a mayor factor in the failure to curb the spreading use of drugs among children. Simon Holliday, head of the city's drug abuse planning agency, agreed, saying too many parents remain blind to the realities in the street.
He told The Post a positive step would be for better and more parent groups to be started as a result of the conference. Middle-class parent groups have already found the resources to form successful alliances, he said, noting that suburban groups have recently been very successful in shutting down drug paraphernalia shops.