On Tuesday, President Clinton unveiled his $16 billion master "guide to action for the next decade:" a plan to fight against drug abuse in our country. Hearkening to his inaugural day mission to give children "a safe, wholesome, constructive upbringing," Clinton is hoping to focus his plan on decreasing drug use in children. His method is two-fold. As he explained: "We want to reduce our demand for drugs, but we are determined to reduce the supply as well." He plans on attacking the demand-side of the drug market with vigilance, through an enormous anti-drug advertising blitz as well as increased spending on a number of established anti-drug programs. Clinton is also looking to undercut the supply-side of the drug trade (how economically non-partisan of him) by severely reducing domestic and foreign sources of drugs. However, events of the past weeks in Mexico and a recent expose in The New Republic about the Drub Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program cause serious skepticism to the President's program.
On the supply-side, over the past month information has come to light regarding flagrant drug-related corruption in the Mexican government. In a twist of irony so violent as to be nearly unbelievable, the head of Mexico's national anti-drug agency, General Jerus Gutierrez Rebollo, was arrested on drug charges earlier this month. Furthermore, through the testimony of Magdalena Ruiz Pelayo, the private secretary to Mexico's former President's father, new information has come to light about drug dealing that enused between narcotics traffickers and some of Mexico's highest ranking officials, including, not surprisingly, relatives of the former President, Carlos Salinas de Gortari (and we thought Clinton's background was sketchy).
In a brief illustration of who's who in the drug drama of Mexico's elite, the New York Times on Wednesday highlighted six characters, among whom are the former President's eldest brother, a former Deputy Attorney General and two state governors, one the former leader of Mexico's national anti-drug campaign and the other, the governor of Sonora, the Mexican state bordering on Arizona. An eminent assortment, to say the least.
In response, General McCaffrey, the head of the White House anti-drug office, said that the U.S. was considering stripping Mexico of its status as a country that fully cooperates in the war against drugs--not an irrational rejoinder, given that Colombia, which will most probably be decertified for a second year, has taken more substantial anti-drug action than Mexico. However, President Clinton seems to be wavering since Mexico issued a letter explaining that any move to lower Mexico's rating would result in a corresponding decrease in Mexican support and a general feeling of doubt as to the benefits of cooperation. So much for supply.
On the demand side, things aren't looking much better. In an article in the March 3 edition of The New Republic, Stephen Glass wrote an article lambasting the D.A.R.E. program. D.A.R.E., the only drug education program that is specifically approved for funding by the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, has become the mainstay of our country's anti-drug training. The program receives $750 million in funding, $600 of which come from the government. The program now services 70 percent of the nation's school districts.
Despite the prevalence of D.A.R.E. and the wide popular support it receives, every major study to evaluate the success of D.A.R.E. has shown unequivocally that D.A.R.E. does not work. Students who go through the seventeen weekly lessons are just as likely to do drugs as students who do not. As sociology professors Earl Wysong and Richard Aniskiewicz reported after studying the effects of D.A.R.E. for seven years: "D.A.R.E. exposure does not produce any longterm prevention effects on adolescent drug use rates."
Yet based on Clinton's expressed desire to put D.A.R.E. in every classroom in the nation and on his recently articulated plan to increase spending on already existing anti-drug programs, it does not seem as though any serious consideration is being paid to the efficacy of the programs. As long as spending money makes us feel better, the Clinton administration seems happy to spend away.
My policy recommendations are simple. Take a hard line against Mexico, or risk losing face in the eyes of the world and, more importantly, in the eyes of the children and the families who need to believe that our government takes illegal drug activity seriously. And examine carefully the success rates of the anti-drug programs that we fund, or risk destroying the credibility of our entire project while failing the children and the parents who believe that they are being trained to fight against the temptations of drugs. If our government cannot fight staunchly against drug abuse, why should we expect any more from its citizens?
Talia Milgrom-Elcott's column appears on alternate Fridays.