Observations on ONDCP's Response to the Open Letter 11/5/99

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David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]

Bob Weiner, communications director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was quoted in the Associated Press coverage of the open letter, saying "What they are protesting is exactly what we have been doing, so we find the protest somewhat disingenuous... If they look at our national strategy, Goal #1 is to educate and enable young people to reject illegal drugs."

Looking at the actual federal drug budget, however, it is not clear what Weiner means by "Goal #1." Only 14% of ONDCP's of the FY1999 federal drug budget is allocated to education and prevention, while 49% goes to domestic law enforcement. Prevention and treatment combined make up only 33%, while supply side programs -- domestic and international -- take up 67%, more than twice as much.

I spoke with Mr. Weiner, who insisted adamantly that educating youth is in fact "goal #1" of the strategy. When I asked what percentage prevention and education make up of the budget, he said "you can't really do a scoring, because even when you do prevention and education in prisons, it still counts as law enforcement." Maybe so, but the idea that prevention and drug education make up a major fraction of incarceration costs seems preposterous, even with the advent of drug courts, as Weiner brought up. Presumably ONDCP has the resources and data to be able to provide a new estimate of the resource allocations, if they believe that the current method of categorization is invalid; but Weiner absolutely refused to provide any percentages.

Weiner pointed out that there was a 13% drop in youth drug use last year, which he credited to ONDCP's massive national ad campaign. The 1998 National Household Survey did show a drop in youth age 12-17 reporting past-month use of any illicit drug. But whether it can be called a 13% drop depends on how that percentage is defined. To be more precise, the *percentage* of 12-17 year olds is what dropped 13% -- from 11.4% to 9.9%. Thus, Weiner's "13% drop" could also be described, perhaps more revealingly, as a 1.5% drop. Weiner also failed to note that last year's drop is a mere half of the increase of the year before, and that the two years before that also saw a rise and drop in youth drug use.

Finally, Weiner said that director McCaffrey "regularly makes the point that we have got to increase the prevention funds, so that the strategy matches the budget" -- an implicit admission that prevention is not truly "goal #1" in practice. But a look at ONDCP's requested prevention budget for FY2000 again paints a different picture -- a mere $19.6 million increase in a budget of nearly $18 billion, an increase of only 0.8% over this year's prevention budget.

As far as we can tell, there is only one sense in which educating youth is "goal #1" of the National Drug Control Strategy: On page nine of the Strategy, there is a numbered list of five goals, and reducing youth drug use is listed first. Bottom line: for ONDCP to call the letter "disingenuous" is the real disingenuousness.

(To read the National Drug Control Stategy, visit http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov, click on publications and look up "National Drug Control Strategy.")

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Issue #115, 11/5/99 Medical Marijuana Wins Again! Maine Becomes 7th State to Shield Patients from Arrest | Justice Department Asks Appeals Court for Rehearing on Medical Marijuana Defense | Latin Leaders Call Drug War a Failure | Citizens Protest Drug Czars' Conference | Observations on ONDCP's Response to the Open Letter | District of Columbia Syringe Exchange Language Holds Up Appropriations Bill | Australia: Vatican KO's Nuns' Safe-Injecting Room Plan, but University Saves the Day | McWilliams and McCormick Trials Beginning This Month | Temporary Job Opportunity in Washington | Editorial: Guest Editorial: Why Is There a War in Colombia? Look to the Streets of Washington, DC
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