Asa Hutchinson
Drug Enforcement Administration
2001 Drug Abuse Resistance Education
(DARE) Conference
Los Angeles, California
August 1, 2001


photo of Administrator Hutchinson
Asa Hutchinson

It is a privilege to be at this national DARE conference with some of the most dedicated officers in the nation.

This is my first major speech on drug policy since being nominated to head the Drug Enforcement Administration and as it happens, I remain in that uncertain world between nomination and confirmation. But I expect Senate action soon.

Thank you for being on the front lines of America’s fight against drugs. As law enforcement officers, your mandate is to arrest criminals and put drug dealers behind bars. But you understand your underlying mission is to help save people’s lives and restore communities.

The Partnership for a Drug Free America monitors drug-related behavior and attitudes among children, teens, and parents. The November 2000 survey of 7,290 teens revealed the following about how many teens are using and have used illegal drugs:

  • 48 percent of teens have used illegal drugs in their lifetime; 39 percent in the past year; 25 percent in the past 30 days.

  • Within their lifetime, 40 percent of teens have used marijuana; 21 percent have used inhalants; 12 percent have used LSD; 11 percent have used methamphetamine; 10 percent used MDMA.

It would be hard to find individuals more dedicated to that fundamental mission than the people right here in this room. You know better than anyone that it’s not enough to enforce laws – that you’ve got to change hearts, as well. That’s why the work you do for DARE is so important.

In my view, there is not a more important issue facing our nation than how to solve the drug problem. That’s one reason why I said “Yes” to the President, gave up a Congressional seat, and took on this responsibility. I can’t think of a better way to serve the American people than serving in the fight against drugs.

I have seen the problem of drugs as a member of Congress and as a federal prosecutor and I personally know the toll drugs take on families and communities.

When I was a teenager in the late 1960s, I thought drug abuse was something that happened in New York, and Chicago, and Los Angeles. Not in Springdale, Arkansas. The only time I heard drugs mentioned was when I turned on the evening news. Today, drugs are in every nook and cranny of America, whether it is Ecstasy in the teen scene, heroin in the city or meth in the heartland.

Meth-Related Emergency Department Episodes: 1998 - 11,491; 1999 - 10,447; 2000 - 13,513.  Source: Drug Abuse WarningIf you look at methamphetamine in my state. As recently as 1994, only six meth labs were found in the state of Arkansas. Last year, Arkansas seized 780 meth labs. This year it looks like as many as 1,000 meth labs could be seized.

Three years ago, I held a town meeting in Gentry, Arkansas. It’s a small community of 2,300 people in a rural area of the Ozarks. Parents, educators, and community leaders wanted the meeting, because since the early 1980s, drug use has exploded in Gentry and other communities in Benton County. At the time of the meeting, the Gentry police department estimated that arrests involving drugs accounted for nearly 70 percent of all the felony cases filed in Benton County.

The DAWN (Drug Abuse Warning Network) report is released annually and evalutes the number of drug-related emergency department episodes for 21select metropolitan areas. The study is conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. The 2000 report indicated:
  • Emergency department episodes related to chronic effects of marijuana use increased 25 percent between 1999 and 2000 (from 6,891 to 8,621).

  • Methamphetamine- related episodes increased 29 percent between 1999 and 2000 (from 10,447 to 13,513).

  • From 1999 to 2000, episodes related to drugs containing oxycodone (including Percocet, Percodan, and OxyContin) increased 68 percent (from 6,429 to 10,825) In the same time period, episodes related to drugs containing hydrocodone increased 31 percent (from 14, 639 to 19,221).

I learned that you can’t escape the drug problem by moving to rural America. In today’s America there is no place in which drugs are not readily available. If you live in America, you can’t escape drugs. The best thing you can do, the only thing you can do, is stand your ground, lock arms with your neighbors, and fight.

I might be new to the DEA, but I’m not a stranger to this effort. From my experience as a prosecutor, parent, and Congressman, I know two things I want to emphasize as DEA’s Administrator. One is a greater sense of urgency; the second is a greater sense of balance.

Let me begin by telling you what I mean by a greater sense of urgency. As a Congressman for the past five years, I’ve been concerned that America is losing its sense of urgency in the fight against drugs.

Click here for descriptive text.There was a time when we called it a “war” against drugs. In the mid-1980s, when many neighborhoods were devastated by crack cocaine, when University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias died of a drug overdose on the eve of what could have been a brilliant pro career, when DEA Special Agent Kiki Camarena was tortured and murdered by traffickers in Mexico: that’s when this nation decided to give its drug policies a battlefield intensity.

Guess what? The greater sense of urgency worked. From 1985 to 1992, drug use was cut in half. But somewhere along the line we lost that sense of urgency. Too many people who should have known better got complacent.

The CASA National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse is an annual survey conducted by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The February 2001 survey revealed the following:
  • For the 6th consecutive year, drugs are the most important problem teens say they face.

  • The percentage of teens who said they expected to never try an illegal drug in the future dropped significantly from 60 percent in 1999 to only 51 percent in 2000.

  • 28 percent of teenagers know a friend or classmate who has used MDMA (Ecstasy). 10 percent had attended a rave. MDMA was available at 70 percent of raves.

And I am sure you felt the results of that complacency. You can’t be expected to do the tough work you do on the front lines without the material and moral support you need to get the job done. What’s more, it’s tough for you to walk into a classroom of young people and tell them about the dangers of drugs if the entertainment and fashion industries are glamorizing drug use, and if well-known political and opinion leaders are recommending legalization.

Let me tell you what America needs—What America needs is a new crusade against drugs, a crusade with equal intensity and compassion. Each year, about 50,000 Americans lose their lives from drug-related causes. That’s almost as many Americans as lost their lives in eight-and-a-half years in the Vietnam War.

There are a lot of threatening issues out there that should concern us – issues like declining test scores in education and terrorism at home. But no issue presents such a serious and immediate threat to this country as the resurgence of some illegal drugs (e.g., Ecstasy, LSD) among America’s young people. We simply cannot continue to allow 50,000 of our fellow Americans to die every year as a result in part of the greed of international traffickers: those who traffic in human misery to satisfy their own quest for illegal profits at the expense of the next generation.

But the problem extends beyond individual traffickers and users. When an addict injects heroin into his veins, he is not only changing the chemistry of his body. Little by little, he is changing the values of society.

I’m often asked why it’s necessary to pick on some harmless addict who is just going to go off by himself and shoot up drugs. What’s the harm? All he wants is a little pleasure in this world.

But the fact is, the image of the lone drug user is a myth. Drugs destroy families, they destroy neighborhoods, and if we don’t get a grip on them, they can destroy the character of this nation.

You may remember a news story from 1987. It concerned a lawyer and his companion, who was a book editor and author. They lived in a New York City apartment with two adopted children. The news story related a horrifying case of physical abuse. The lawyer was charged with throwing his six-year old adopted daughter against a wall, then sitting in front of the girl, smoking cocaine with his companion, while the girl lapsed into a coma and eventually died.

When police arrived at the apartment, they also found a 17-month old boy, soaked in urine, encrusted with dirt, tethered by rope to a filthy playpen. The incident got a lot of press coverage because it involved two people – a lawyer and a book editor – who you’d think would know better.

I’ll bet virtually everyone in this room could draw on their own experience in law enforcement to tell me a similar story. The individuals involved may not have had the high profiles to get them into The New York Times. But the moral of each one of those stories is the same: You can’t serve your addictions and serve your family or other people at the same time.

The message our young people should be getting is clear: Drug use hurts you, and it hurts everyone around you. And we will do everything we can to help you resist the temptation to experiment with drugs.

When I say “do everything we can,” I mean a crusade calling on every sector of society and using every resource that is available. This is a crusade with three fronts. There is always the debate between supply and demand resources.

When it comes to resources, we don’t need a competitive fight, we need a cooperative strategy – one that uses enforcement, prevention, and treatment in a coordinated approach. I pledge to work to bring that balanced approach and assure cooperation.

Let me emphasize: prevention and treatment cannot get the job done without enforcement. Enforcement is absolutely necessary. Enforcement sends the right signals to people who are tempted to try drugs. Young people should know their government believes drug use is a serious problem for them and for the society around them – that it’s not just an alternative lifestyle. The law is our great moral teacher, and if we fail to enforce the law, we fail to teach and we succeed only in diminishing the character of this nation.

If young people get the message that society winks at drug use, then America will have surrendered to the weaknesses of our culture.

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about treatment, and there should be. I think there is a real need for more treatment facilities, and especially for efforts to make treatment programs as effective as possible. We all know there is a treatment gap, and we do not have the facilities for all who need help, especially young people. To help remedy this problem, I can tell you that President Bush included $3.4 billion in the ’02 budget for treatment.

There are now roughly 1.5 million people using cocaine at least once a month. Another 350,000 are hard-core meth users. And about 200,000 use heroin. For them, treatment is a must. But availability of treatment does not necessarily result in treatment.

Some of you may have seen the film, “Traffic.” The message that came out of that film was that enforcement isn’t working, that the only solution is treatment.

Click here for descriptive text.Yet, the man who wrote the film had been a drug addict himself. In an interview with The New York Times, he said that he entered treatment only after his heroin dealer, his back-up dealer, and his back-up, back-up dealer were arrested on the same weekend. Treatment was important for the screenwriter, but it was enforcement that convinced him to seek treatment. His case is a perfect illustration of why we need a balanced policy in the fight against drugs. Enforcement and treatment work together.

Treatment works for some people, as it did for the screenwriter. But all too often it takes repeated stays in clinics over a period of years to finally cure an addiction to drugs. In the meantime, those who go through it are wasting the best, most productive years of their lives on overcoming addictions when they should be establishing careers and building families.

Click here for descriptive text.That’s why I fully support drug courts. I had the opportunity to visit some here in Los Angeles a while back, and I saw how effective they are in helping those people who need help the most. The long, intensive counseling period is monitored by the courts. Relapses in drug use are punishable by imprisonment, which provides a powerful incentive for staying on the straight and narrow. These drug courts have an incredible success rate, and many lives are made whole again. It’s important to remember that law enforcement triggers this whole drug court process. You are the key to the balanced approach.

The Partnership for a Drug Free America monitors drug-related behavior and attidues among children, teens, and parents. The November 2000 survey of 7,290 teens revealed the following about how many teens are using and have used illegal drugs:
  • 48 percent of teens have used illegal drugs in their lifetime; 39 percent in the past year; 25 percent in the past 30 days.

  • Within their lifetime, 40 percent of teens have used marijuana; 21 percent have used inhalants; 12 percent have used LSD; 11 percent have used methamphetamine; 10 percent used MDMA.

You are the key because the American people hold you in very high regard. That comes out in public opinion polls. A month-and-a-half ago, the Gallup Poll asked a broad sample of people to rate 16 major American institutions. The people reported that they had more confidence in law enforcement than virtually any other institution. Only the military and the church came out ahead. You were ahead of such institutions as the Supreme Court and public education – and way ahead of the media, and, unfortunately, Congress.

What that tells me is that, when it comes to drugs, you can influence the choices that will be made. Kids learn best from the example of others. Your involvement in DARE and in volunteer activities makes a real difference in the lives you touch.

No one else can call on the experience you have to provide first-hand accounts of what drug abuse is really like. And your very presence in the classroom is a lesson for young people that it’s possible to lead happy, productive, fulfilling, drug-free lives.

That’s why I’m so supportive of DARE. I know you are going through some challenging times. But change is good for all of us. What I can promise you is the continued cooperation of DEA.

In my work as prosecutor and congressman, I’ve seen a growing spirit of cooperation between law enforcement and others in this noble cause – not only in enforcing laws, but in preventing drug abuse. I salute your efforts and encourage you to keep this trust with America.

Why is this battle—this compassionate crusade—worth fighting? I’ve heard it said that a man’s character will determine his future, and so it is for the nation. What we do on the drug issue will impact not only families and communities, but also on the character of our nation.

Thank you.

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