US Wasting Funds in Drug Effort Blue-Ribbon Commission Reports That Military Interdiction Strategy Is Ineffective. NARCOTICS

Article excerpt

THERE are no yellow ribbons for America's drug warriors.

While Desert Storm troops march home to adoring crowds, the nearly-forgotten soldiers in the drug war slog on against an entrenched enemy. The drug war's top new general, Bob Martinez, is finding that criminal cartels and street-corner pushers are far tougher than Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's Army.

Congress and private experts now wonder: Is America fighting this war with the same savvy it demonstrated against Iraq?

Many authorities say no.

The latest critique of America's drug war strategy was unveiled yesterday by the Inter-American Commission on Drug Policy.

After a two-year study, the blue-ribbon commission concluded that the US wastes $1 billion a year on efforts to halt the flow of drugs into this country. At the same time, other programs that would have a greater effect on drug abuse are underfunded.

The commission, which draws backing from the Ford Foundation, includes members from six nations. It operates out of the Institute of the Americas and the Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies at the University of California at San Diego.

The commissioners were critical of the proposed 1992 White House budget, which would allocate over 70 percent of its $11.7 billion for the drug war to police and military efforts. They say that Governor Martinez, like his predecessor at the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, William Bennett, is putting too many resources into interdiction.

By comparison, $3.2 billion, or less than 30 percent of the drug budget, will be used for narcotics treatment and education.

"These priorities are upside down," the commission argues. "Authorities should give greater attention and funding to what is working: programs to reduce demand and treatment of drug abusers."

The commission particularly objects to massive funding for police and military efforts to block drugs at the US border. Law enforcement funds would be better spent to disrupt criminal networks which produce drugs, and to put police into neighborhoods where drugs are sold.

The stakes in this war are extremely high. Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan observes that the abuse of drugs is costing the US an estimated $176 billion a year. That includes the cost of crime, prisons, medical care for addicted babies, lost economic production, and workplace accidents.

Interestingly, the $176 billion annual price tag is about three times higher than the total cost of Desert Storm, which so riveted national attention.

Mr. Conyers, who chairs the House Government Operations Committee that oversees Martinez's office, expresses the growing frustration on Capitol Hill. …