Fight drugs with treatment,
not helicopters

By Rep. Jim Ramstad, (R-MN)

We're about to spend almost $2 billion to escalate the war on drugs in Colombia, while here in the United States 26 million addicts and alcoholics go untreated.

We've already spent over $600 million to eradicate drugs at their source in Colombia and what's happened? According to Michael Massing, author or a recent study of U.S. antidrug policy, both cocaine and heroin production in Colombia have more than doubled and Colombia is now the source of 80 percent of the cocaine and 75 percent of the heroin in the United States.

Let's face it, our supply-side efforts have been a colossal failure. Congress and the president need to wake up and face reality.

Over the last 10 years, the federal government has spent $150 billion to combat the supply of illegal drugs, yet the cocaine market is as glutted as ever. Heroin is readily available at record high purities. And the number of hard-core addicts continues to increase.

Our drug eradication and interdiction efforts have been a costly failure. As a former U.S. Navy commander who led such efforts in Colombia for three years told me recently, The $1.7 billion proposed for drug eradication and interdiction in Colombia is good money thrown after bad."

Retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Sylvester Salcedo also said, "We can't make progress on the drug problem by increasing our failed efforts in Colombia. Instead, we should confront the issue of demand here at home by providing treatment to our addicts in the U.S."

We need to listen to this veteran of the war on drugs, who added, "Washington should not spend its money on more helicopters but on treatment for addicts."

The $400 million cost of the helicopters alone would provide treatment for 200,00 Americans addicted to drugs.

This is ludicrous and this is wrong. We're about to spend $2 billion on Colombia for drug eradication and interdiction, while most of the 26 million addict and alcoholics in the United States are unable to access treatment.

We're about to spend $2 billion in Colombia even though treatment has been proven to be 23 times more cost-effective than eradication of crops and 11 times more cost-effective than interdiction.

When will Congress and the president wake up to the basic fact that our nation's supply-side strategy does not attack the underlying problem of addition that causes people to crave and demand drugs?

When President Richard Nixon declared "War on Drugs" in 1971, he directed 60 percent of the funding to treatment. Now, we're down to 18 percent!

That's a big reason fully one-half of the treatment beds available just 10 years ago are gone. The other reason is that we allow insurance companies to discriminate against the disease of addition by limiting access to treatment.

This is a defining moment in the 30-year effort to curb illegal drug use in the United States. We can keep pumping money into a supply-side cesspool. Or we can shift our focus to the drug addition problem here at home. We will never stop the drug epidemic unless we cut off the insatiable demand for drugs in our nation.

It's time to reject the $2 billion for the failed policy in Colombia. It's time to redirect those resources to expanding access to drug treatment here at home.

The American people cannot afford to wait any longer for Congress to "get real" about addition in America. Congress needs to just say no" to this Colombia boondoggle.

-Jim Ramstad, a Republican, represents Minnesota's Third Congressional District. A recovering alcoholic of 18 years, Ramstad is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and co-chair of the House Law Enforcement Caucus.