Bush Vows New Assault on Drugs

Bush Vows New Assault on Drugs
Posted by FoM on September 02, 1999 at 07:43:42 PT
Ambitious Florida goals revealed
Source: Miami Herald
TALLAHASSEE -- Saying drugs ''poison our community,'' Gov. Jeb Bush promised Wednesday to spend a half-billion dollars next year with the goal of reducing drug use by 50 percent over five years in Florida -- an ambitious goal in a place known worldwide as a magnet for illegal drugs.
Speaking to a statewide conference of alcohol and drug abuse experts in Orlando, Bush said the state will embark on a two-part strategy of punishment and treatment, while streamlining the state's cannibalized and disconnected anti-drug efforts.The crusade will include a massive increase in drug-treatment beds, more specialized drug courts, more prosecutors, better security at airports and seaports and a renewed emphasis on the need for parents to talk to their kids about the dangers of drugs. The Bush plan would attack drug use in all its guises -- from pot plants growing in the Keys to cocaine being smuggled through Miami International Airport cargo holds to suburban teens snorting it.''When people sell drugs and poison our community, they should be punished, but we also need to expand treatment,'' Bush said before his speech to the Florida Alcohol & Drug Abuse Association. ''We've kind of gone back and forth on one side or the other, but it's clear we need to do both.''Jim McDonough, Bush's drug policy coordinator, who worked in the White House drug control office before joining the state administration, said he would also push for more U.S. Customs agents in South Florida.''We have to bring down the demand and bring down the supply,'' he said.McDonough cited recent revelations of rampant drug trafficking at Miami International Airport as the latest example of the ''cavalier, casual'' attitude toward illegal drugs in Florida.''It's atrocious. It's a wink and a nod, and here come the drugs,'' McDonough said. ''That's the kind of stuff that kills people.''Florida's rate of drug use -- about 8 percent of the population -- is much higher than the national average of 6.2 percent, McDonough said. Nearly two-thirds of all cocaine seized in the U.S. last year came to Florida, a year in which the state also experienced a 51 percent increase in heroin-related deaths.He called it a troubling result of the state's mobile, transient population and laid-back atmosphere.Bush will formally unveil his anti-drug strategy on Sept. 10. An estimated $360 million in the first year of the program will come from the state, with the rest coming from the federal government -- though none of it is new money. The state is coordinating anti-drug programs now scattered through various state agencies -- like health and corrections departments and the Department of Law Enforcement. But even that step is a novel approach, officials say.About 60 percent of the money would be spent on education and prevention, said Tim Bottcher, spokesman for the six-person drug policy office, a branch of the governor's office. The rest, he said, will go to law enforcement.Expert approvesA Miami-Dade drug treatment expert welcomes Bush's promise to add more than 9,000 new drug-treatment beds.''There is a tremendous shortage of beds,'' said Dr. Moraima Trujillo, chief of general psychiatry at Veterans Administrators Hospital, who specializes in substance abuse and serves as the medical director at several Miami-Dade rehab and detox centers. ''Outpatient treatment is not the answer. Patients need to be removed from their environment in order to truly be helped. It's a major problem. At the centers where I work, patients are constantly being pushed out the door. There are never enough beds to keep them.''''If the governor is able to pull this off, I think it would be a tremendous help to the community,'' Trujillo said. ''If you eliminate the bottom of the pyramid, which are the users, you will be eliminating the market for the pushers. And it's the community at large that's suffering. They are the ones being hit by drunk or drugged drivers.''Controversial pointOne aspect of Bush's anti-drug program is sure to be controversial among civil libertarians and some legal experts: The governor is proposing to take away the right of defendants in drug cases to depose police officers before trial. Bush said that would stop police from spending ''All their time in depositions when they're trying to apprehend the major drug dealers.''Miami defense lawyer Chris Mancini said eliminating pretrial depositions is ''a terrible idea,'' because the investigative legwork turns up examples of sloppy police work that save prosecutors from taking weak cases to trial.''Anybody who's been in the system for a long time, other than a politician like Jeb Bush, understands depositions actually work to everyone's benefit,'' Mancini said. ''I don't know who they're pandering to.''Bush also proposes tax breaks for companies that submit their employees to random drug testing.In renewing the war on drugs, Bush also is confronting the post-baby boom culture that generally takes a so-what attitude toward alcohol and marijuana.Questionable goalsDr. Andres Fernandez, medical director at Center Intake Unit, a Miami drug rehab center, said Bush's goals were admirable -- but questionable.''I think that if the government increased the number of beds and at the same time increased the amount of drug education given to young people, and if we controled the drugs coming into Florida, the governor could do it in five years. But that's a whole lot of ifs,'' Fernandez said.Even some drug experts who heard Bush's talk were skeptical of his lofty goals.Asia Eichmiller, a drug counselor at Brevard Correctional Institution, said reducing drug use by 50 percent is unrealistic. ''It's very entrenched in our culture,'' Eichmiller said.But Kerry Wilensky, a drug treatment expert in Clermont, applauded the shift in focus away from purely punishment to prevention.''Traditionally, we've had too much emphasis on interdiction instead of prevention,'' Wilensky said. ''As long as there is no demand, there is no supply.''Police applaudSome local law enforcement experts applauded Bush's commitment to fighting drug abuse.Danny Wright of the Broward Sheriff's Office, who serves as chief of the Pompano Beach police, called Bush's target of a 50 percent reduction in drug use ''a reachable goal.'' He cited two key factors: constant drug-abuse awareness efforts in public schools and pressing apartment owners to write leases threatening immediate eviction for drug-dealing tenants.''At one time, we were only doing enforcement. The education and prevention mechanisms were missing. But it's changing,'' said Wright, who is organizing a drug summit Oct. 16 at Ely High School in Pompano Beach.Herald staff writer Anabelle de Gale contributed to this report, and information from The Associated Press is included.Published ThursdaySeptember 2, 1999in the Miami Herald By STEVE BOUSQUETCapital Bureau Chief Copyright 1999 Miami Herald 
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