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GOP seizes teen drug use study to criticize Clinton's leadership

Peter Slevin
The Houston Chronicle
August 24, 1996

WASHINGTON - With fresh confirmation that drug use among
teen-agers has increased sharply - doubling in just three
years - drug policy advocates and Republican leaders accuse
President Clinton of being ""absent without leadership'' on the
narcotics issue.

The president who smoked marijuana as a young man has done too
little to fight drugs, even many mainstream activists contend.

They say he failed to set an agenda and speak out early in his
tenure, only recently showing an increased commitment to the
anti-drug effort.

GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole aims to use the drug issue
against Clinton, linking doubts about the president's
character and his strength as a leader. Dole called government
statistics released this past week ""nothing short of a
national tragedy. ''

""It's clear that President Clinton has not given the same
degree of attention to the drug issue as Presidents Reagan and
Bush,'' said Sue Rusche, director of National Families in
Action, an Atlanta-based drug organization. She said Clinton
""got off to a slow start,'' a view echoed by the president's
supporters and critics alike.

""There was never really any emphasis,'' recalled a former
Clinton administration drug official. ""For the first 21/2 years,
you couldn't get him to say anything, because the first time
he raised it, someone was going to ask, 'Would you inhale? ' ''

While Republicans hope to convince voters that increased
teen-age drug use is evidence of America's moral decay and
Clinton White House wimpishness, specialists say the issue is
more complicated.

Not only did the rise in teen usage begin in 1991, before
Clinton took office, but the causes of drug use are many,
varied, debatable - and they extend beyond the domain of the
Oval Office.

""If we're going to look for blame,'' Rusche said, ""both parties

need to take responsibility. ''

One in nine children between the ages of 12 and 17, in the
most recent federal survey, said they had used drugs in the
previous month, an increase of 111 percent since 1992. One in
12 smoked marijuana. One in 125 snorted cocaine.
As a candidate in 1992, Clinton promised a fresh approach to
the drug war, emphasizing domestic education and treatment
programs over the high-profile interdiction programs favored
by his Republican predecessors. He promised to put 100,000 new
cops on America's streets to raise the price of crime.

Once he arrived in the White House, however, Clinton offered
few signs of his promised rethink. He cut the staff of the
Office of National Drug Control Policy from 130 in 1992 to 40
in 1994. He did not push hard for more funding of drug
programs when Congress rebuffed him.

""The Clinton administration has made a powerful case for more
prevention and treatment, but unfortunately they haven't
followed through with any real budget changes,'' said Mathea
Falco, president of Drug Strategies, a Washington think tank.

""They haven't put their money into the kinds of programs that
are desperately needed. ''
Overall spending on anti-drug programs has increased 13
percent to $ 13.8 billion during the Clinton presidency.

Funding for prevention decreased slightly to $ 1.4 billion,
while treatment dollars increased marginally to $ 2.6 billion.

Interdiction money dropped.

Roughly two-thirds of the budget goes to enforcement, from the
funding of investigations ($ 1.7 billion) to state and local
police ($ 1.4 billion) to prisons ($ 2.1 billion). Another $ 390
million goes to international projects.

Attorney General Janet Reno complained last week that the
Republican Congress ""has not come through'' when it decided not
to fund a variety of drug-prevention programs authorized in
the 1994 Crime Act, from drug courts to after-school

The profile of the White House drug office got a boost earlier
this year, when Clinton appointed Gen. Barry McCaffrey to
rebuild the shrunken and largely unfocused operation.

McCaffrey has been outspoken and inclusive, while cautioning
that it will take time to develop a comprehensive strategy.

On the supply side, years of attempts to slow the flow of
drugs into the country have had little effect on the U.S.
narcotics market.

A kilogram of cocaine is slightly cheaper now than it was in
1992, while a gram costs perhaps one-third what it did in the
early 1980s, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration
spokesman. The price of a kilo of heroin has remained
virtually flat for four years, while the potency has

The president's strongest critics fault him for choosing not
to give the drug war the same priority as his Republican
predecessors. It was Nancy Reagan who urged Americans to ""just
say no,'' and President Bush who authorized the use of the military to intercept drug shipments. Republicans now taunt
the White House by saying the Clinton policy is ""Just Say
Nothing. ''
Dr. Herbert Kleber, who runs Columbia University's Center on
Addiction and Substance Abuse, considers the new figures on
teen-age drug use ""scary,'' not only because the numbers are
rising, but because the rate of growth is accelerating each

""If there's anything we know from the science of prevention,
it is that if you want to prevent drug use, you need the major
forces delivering a consistent message,'' said Kleber,
referring to politicians, parents, entertainers, and the news

""This is where the Clinton administration has fallen down very
badly,'' Kleber said. ""It's not that they've given the wrong
message, but . . . the total silence. ''


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