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Focus on drugs, not politics

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JULY 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy announced in a press release that $3.3 million in federal grants will go towards 31 statewide drug-prevention, treatment, and enforcement initiatives last Tuesday — 60 percent of which will go to the pursuit and prosecution of drug users and dealers; the remaining 40 percent will be split between the prevention of drugs and treatment of the users.

Many see the division of the grant as another failed promise from the Obama administration: to treat drugs as a health problem instead of waging a costly "war" on them.

The political trail has been plagued with the word "war" in differing contexts the past century. President Nixon had his "war on drugs," President Kennedy had his "war on crime," and President Bush had his "war on terror." War is a fantastic word to rally the country around a single cause, but it is often used to advance narrow-minded policies while blinding citizens with patriotism.

Iowa cannot be bogged down in the political rhetoric of a prevention-against-treatment battle but instead must keep focused on the problem of drugs.

Yes, Iowa had the lowest rate of illicit-drug use in the country, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. And yes, recent national and state legislation against synthetic drugs are victories in the fight — but there is so much more to concentrate on than the syntactical labeling of certain known dangerous substances.

The number of meth labs has increased in the state, though not to the point of Iowa's record high of 1,500 reported meth labs in 2004. There has been around a 70 percent increase in that number since 2007 — seven labs were seized in Johnson County in 2010 alone. This is obviously not something to put on the back burner.

There is also the continued numbers of marijuana abuse among children and adults alike that remain grave threats to the stability and productivity of our state's drug-prevention strategy.

Marijuana is the drug of choice by 22.1 percent of the total number of adults in substance-abuse treatment and 65 percent of kids under 18 in treatment — 26 percent of Iowa 11th-graders have used marijuana, according to the 2010 Iowa Youth Survey.

Living near a college campus only furthers this string of empirical evidence — 118 individuals were arrested with the possession of a controlled substance in 2011 by the University of Iowa police alone. Everyone either knows someone who has smoked pot on a regular basis or is someone who smokes pot on a regular basis.

In the political arena, there is a prevention camp and there is an enforcement camp — with, of course, shades of gray in the middle. The ideas of prevention and treatment describe the war on drugs to be better fought by spending more money on treating the addicting factors of drugs and preventing the drugs from being spread through education. The enforcement camp feels the majority of the funding should go to pursuing and preventing drugs through police departments and federal law-enforcement program, as well as prosecution.

With the division of these federal grants, many people could peg Iowa as an enforcement state — but when the numbers are totaled, Iowa spends more on prevention and treatment than on enforcement.

The total estimated funding for Iowa's substance-abuse strategy is around $119 million — $33 million of that sum will go to enforcement, while around $85 million will go to prevention and treatment.

But Iowa's focus when it comes to drugs cannot be whether political points can be scored through making campaign promises with no legal backing requiring a person to follow through.

The president's or the governor's political take on the drug "war" cannot be the public's main focus. Like Obama's recent statement to stop the persecution of young immigrants, it is nothing but manipulation of the media to gain support. The focus must be instead on the amount of drugs in our state and county and how best to prevent and treat them on our own.


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