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Monitor Breakfast: John P. Walters

Selected quotations from a Monitor Breakfast with John P. Walters, director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy.

On how the war on terrorism affects drug control efforts:

"You hear different opinions about this. The reason you hear different opinions is that we don't have perfect knowledge of what is actually flowing so sometimes it is hard to tell the difference on the street level for some period of time because there is a certain amount in the pipeline. ...We certainly don't see reports immediately after Sept. 11 of critical shortages on the street which would be an immediate and most prominent indicator. We have seen more seizures at the border we also have seen more seizures at airports because of increased airport security. And I think there is a general consensus -- although there is always a debate about these things -- that there is less effort to move drugs through the airport because of tighter security and some border areas...But what we are trying to do is integrate what we are doing with the changes in homeland security so we get a little more stable and consistent interdiction effort along the borders."

On success of ads that say buying drugs supports terrorism:

"We did extensive focus group testing - more than any of the more than 200 kinds of ads that have been part of the ad campaign since its inception. We found that it had an extremely powerful effect on both young people, young adults, and parents. We didn't expect parents - parents talked about how this would be an important and powerful way to talk to the young people. The dimension that I think is important here is that we have done a lot of ads taking about the harm drugs do to you. Young people have some concern about their well being but they are at an age where the feel more invulnerable sometimes. So these ads appeal to their idealism -what do you want to be seeing in the world. "

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On the president's drug message during his trip next week to Latin America:

"In order to effectively control drug production in this hemisphere, we have to stimulate other economic growth and growth in the producing countries. We are doing more to destabilize illicit trade in places like Columbia ....we can't successfully create and expand the kind of partnership we need to have in the region if we are not going to expand trade. We understand that the drug control policy and our cooperation with them on fighting drugs and drug organizations is ongoing. But the concomitant part of that for bringing poor farmers and developing those countries and their democratic institutions is economic development, and that is what the president is going to focus on."

On the most important part of the US anti-drug effort:

"Prevention, no question. It is the most cost effective thing to do because we know from long research that if young people do not start experimenting with drugs in their teen aged years, they are unlikely to have a substance abuse problem later on. They are unlikely to start later on. So if you want to talk about how we inoculate people from the drug problem, keep young people from experimenting with drugs during their teenage years. That has the effect of reducing the number of people who are dependent and need treatment, it reduces the crime associated with the drug market, and all the other collateral harms. The challenge in that area is that it requires not just a specific government program to do something, but it requires enlisting the country as a whole..."

On whether enough drug treatment is available:

"The reason the president has called for the unprecedented increase in treatment spending is because we don't think we have enough services at this point. What we also know is we haven't done a good enough job of putting treatment where the need is and that is one of the things we are doing - the way we are applying these resources... We know that drug addition is not distributed on the basis of population, it has places of focus. So we have another program... that is based on demonstrated need and the ability to meet that need..."

On the nature of drug offenders in prison:

"There has been a considerable disservice done by (those who say that) there are a lot of low level, non-violent offenders. I believe that any serious look at the prison population... (that takes into account prisoners' prior records, would reveal that) the vast majority of those incarcerated in state institutions are violent of repeat offenders of a serious enough nature to deserve the imprisonment. It is not a matter of some kid caught with a baggie of marijuana at a traffic stop who got slammed into prison. That is a caricature that I think it is about time we stopped repeating because it is so blatantly not true."

On why drugs should be illegal:

"The reason that drugs are illegal is because of the harm they do to individuals particularly. I would think the sensitivity here is because of the harm they do to individuals in a democratic society - that they take away the ability of individuals to act as free, responsible citizens. Their lives collapse down to drug use. That is what drug addiction is really about, that is what drug legalization is about... As I said, 25 percent of the people in the country who are substance dependent are teenagers. We have never had that rate of young people. So to present this as 30 year-olds who are going to have fun on the weekend and who cares what they do with themselves is not the reality of drug addiction in this country."