Thursday, May 27, 2004

War on drugs won't be won with handout

Peter Bronson

Beware of federal officials bearing gifts. They promise to give you something you really need. Then you find out it's a Chia Pet.

This week, national drug czar John Walters came to City Hall to give Cincinnati a role in the 25 Cities Initiative. Finally, someone is talking about starting to consider doing something about our city's drug problems.

But I hope it's not another Chia Pet program - a gift that grows and grows for no apparent reason. Everyone talks about it at first, then it winds up in the back of a cupboard.

Walters wants "increased measures to reduce prescription drug abuse in Cincinnati.''

That's like offering a nicotine patch to a heroin junkie.

One of every four Ohio teens has abused prescription drugs, the experts say. But our city's "jones'' is not teens getting into the medicine cabinet.

Our problem is crack.

The murders this week and every week are just the most violent and deadly side effects of crack addiction.

Local leaders hastened to say that their efforts will focus on Cincinnati's problems, by weaving the loose strings of federally funded treatment, prevention and enforcement programs into one stronger rope.

"Cincinnati is doing the largest survey in the United States by a local coalition, to look at drug usage by neighborhood,'' said Paul Zimmerman of the Coalition For a Drug-Free Cincinnati.

Two neighborhoods will be selected for prevention, treatment and enforcement. Coalition president Rhonda Ramsey-Molina said problems such as lenient sentencing and a drug-glorifying culture will also be targeted.

She tells the story of a teen-age girl who insisted she would not do drugs. But the girl admitted she probably would get pregnant, drop out of school and hook up with a drug dealer who makes lots of money.

In many neighborhoods, that career path is more common than "go to college,'' "graduate'' and "get a job.''

If the 25 Cities Initiative can focus local anti-drug efforts like a hose nozzle, to apply more pressure, that's a good thing. They promise reports and measurement of our problems and success in treating them. The White House goal is to reduce drug use among all Americans by 10 percent in two years, and 25 percent in five years.

But I wonder: Where are the representatives of the "community?'' How do you kick a drug habit without help from the addict?

The gangstas, drug dealers and users being killed every week on the streets of Cincinnati are the brothers, sons, fathers and children of Cincinnati families. When will those families turn their righteous anger against the drug culture? When will the churches join in a holy war on drugs and drug violence?

And at the end of the sidewalk where prevention and treatment fail and a cop has to apply enforcement with a gun or a Taser, will our political leaders have the courage to stand up and explain that this, too, is part of our battle against drugs and drug violence?

"When we choose these two communities, we need an active community coalition of faith, parents and local government,'' Zimmerman said. "The odds of success go way up.''

I hope the 25 Cities Initiative works. But it can't do it alone.

The weird thing about Chia Pets is they have no soil and grow without roots. Unless the anti-drug effort is rooted in the community, it might be only a conversation piece.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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