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Inspired Choice for ‘Drug Czar’ : Former top police official Lee Brown is tapped by Clinton

One hopes that the first cop ever picked to head the nation’s anti-drug effort will bring some long overdue common sense to this entirely over-politicized and often misconceived area of federal policy.

Wisely, President Clinton has selected former New York City Police Chief Lee P. Brown to direct the Office of National Drug Control Policy. It is an inspired choice.

Brown, a former top cop in several cities and the holder of a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, knows exactly what cops can--and cannot--do to reduce drug abuse.

As many as 6 million Americans use drugs regularly. Drug abuse often goes hand in hand with crime, and crack cocaine use often goes hand in hand with predatory crime.

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Significantly, in many urban jails--so overcrowded largely because drug-related arrests doubled during the last decade--the majority of men arrested for serious crimes test positive for drug abuse upon admission.

Worse yet, among the youngest teen-agers--eighth-graders--marijuana, cocaine and LSD use is up, if only slightly, according to an annual University of Michigan study conducted for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That disappointing report represents a reversal in an encouraging trend of decline in illicit drug use by teen-agers.

Brown should use his new bully pulpit to urge the nation to place a higher priority on prevention and treatment to reduce the demand for drugs. Demand drives supply. If fewer Americans want drugs, the lucrative profits and the supply will begin to erode.

Previous adminstrations relied primary on beefed-up law enforcement to reduce drug use. Police are essential to fighting drugs on the streets--and in the classroom through the admirable DARE program--but police officers cannot single-handedly stop drug use as long as illegal drugs flow into the country to meet a domestic demand.

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President Clinton should, of course, meet with the heads of drug-producing nations. He should listen to what they need to discourage the cultivation of drug crops. Peru’s leaders, for example, asked then-President George Bush for support to encourage small growers to switch from coca to citrus crops. But Bush preferred high-tech military assistance, which pleased foreign generals but did little to feed farmers’ families--or seriously disrupt the cocaine trade.

Clinton, like many other Americans, knows the pain that comes from having a relative abuse drugs. His brother, Roger, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine. A combination of getting caught and getting help made the difference. Now, President Clinton and his new drug chief must help others conquer their habits with a drug policy that enforces the law but also relies more on prevention and treatment.


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