The District's drug-use problem is the worst it has ever been and is growing, Mayor Marion Barry and U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova testified yesterday at a hearing of the Senate D.C. Appropriations subcommittee.
Despite concerted efforts by federal and local officials to stop drug traffic and use, Barry said, "I think the problem is more serious today than ever before.
"All this energy is going into it . . . but the bottom line is it's easier to get PCP and heroin on the streets than it was a year ago, two years ago -- and I don't know what to do about that," Barry said.
Supply is up, demand is up and the purity of illegal drugs has increased, he added.
Barry said he would "consider" making all D.C. city employes undergo a urinalysis to detect any drug use. But he said that drug use in the D.C. government work force appears to be "less prevalent than in the population at large" and that focusing on city employes would be unfair and possibly unconstitutional.
Of about 8,000 people a year who are arrested on drug charges, few are city employes, Barry said.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), subcommittee chairman, had pointed to the recent firing or suspension of 32 school bus drivers and bus attendants, more than 10 percent of the school transportation workers, because drug traces were found in their urine during an annual physical examination. Specter said he wondered if this might be just "the tip of the iceberg" and if any more testing of city employes was contemplated.
DiGenova said drug abuse is "much more serious than we ever thought it would be" and is "definitely on the increase" for both hard-core addicts and recreational users. He based this on drug arrests, admissions to St. Elizabeths Hospital for drug use and use of drug-abuse counseling programs.
"There appears to be an acceptance of substance abuse, more so than ever before," he said.
Barry made the same point, saying that "drug use is not looked at as negatively as it used to be . . . . It's 'the thing to do' " among young people.
"TV has a lot to do with it, with its glamorization of violence and this fast life," the mayor said after the hearing.
Barry said he has a proposal on his desk for the creation of a blue-ribbon task force on PCP to recommend ways to attack the problem and that he might expand it to include all drug abuse.
Specter, whose subcommittee approves the District's budget and federal funding each year, invited the mayor to bring in a fiscal 1986 budget request for more funds to fight drugs. "These matters ought to occupy center stage," Specter said.
Heroin deaths in the District this year appear to be occurring at record rates, and drug indictments have more than tripled in D.C. Superior Court this year, according to city statistics.
DiGenova said strong efforts are being made on a national level to keep drugs from coming into the country and that a regional task force is looking to "stop the problem at its source" by focusing on the distribution network.
But Barry said the federal government has not done enough to keep drugs from coming into the country. "Flights are coming in every day" from Colombia, where much of the cocaine used in the United States originates, he said.
"When you get done with all the task forces . . . the reality of life is that drugs are more plentiful now than ever before," he said.