DEA Director Discusses War On Drugs, Public Service Careers

  • News Photo 616
    DEA Director Asa Hutchinson spoke on America's war on drugs at Baylor's inaugural Public Leadership Series lecture.
    Photo By: Jason Raddin / Baylor Photogaphy
  • News Photo 614
    A standing-room-only crowd gathered at Barfield Drawing Room for the first Public Leadership Series lecture, featuring DEA Director Asa Hutchinson.
    Photo By: Jason Raddin / Baylor Photogaphy
  • News Photo 615
    (L to R) DEA Director Asa Hutchinson with Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr.
    Photo By: Jason Raddin / Baylor Photogaphy
Sept. 17, 2002

by Lori Scott Fogleman

Before a standing-room-only Barfield Drawing Room - and under the watchful eyes of several federal agents - Drug Enforcement Administration Director Asa Hutchinson delivered the first lecture in Baylor University's Public Leadership Series Sept. 16.

Several hundred students, faculty, staff and local citizens gathered on campus to hear the former congressman and U.S. Attorney for Western Arkansas discuss the myths associated with the war on drugs. He also lauded the "exciting, rewarding and challenging" benefits of a career in public service, one of the intentions behind the establishment of the lecture series.

"There are very talented people committed to public service, trying to serve our country," Hutchinson said. "Whether it's in law enforcement or public office or government or academics, you have an opportunity to live a life of service, to practice your faith in a public arena and to improve the lives of others and the life of our country."

Despite more international focus on the war on terror, Hutchinson said America's war on drugs is still an important domestic issue that confronts Americans on a daily basis. For the U.S. to win the war on drugs, Hutchinson said, it will take leadership, perseverance and the courage to challenge the "myths" that there has been no progress with current policy.

"The first myth is sometimes described in harsher tones that the drug war is a miserable failure," he said. "There is some pleasant news. On the demand side, we've reduced casual use, chronic use and prevented others from even starting."

Hutchinson cited statistics that showed overall drug use in the U.S. down more than a third since the late 1970s and cocaine use down by 70 percent during the last 15 years.

"Those numbers represent real lives. Those are people in our families, our neighborhoods and our communities," the director said. "But because we have made progress doesn't mean we should all clap our hands and say the battle is over. We still have much progress to make. We have to be concerned about other drug threats like Ecstasy and methamphetamine. The fact is that our current policy of balancing prevention and enforcement of our laws with treatment has kept usage outside the scope of acceptable behavior in the United States."

The war on terrorism also yielded unexpected benefits in the war on drugs, Hutchinson said.

"There's a lot of comparison between the two. It's an ongoing struggle; you have to share intelligence; you have to build international cooperation," he said. "Even though we are focused, rightfully so, on our fight against terrorism, because of the increased security on the border and increased security in airports, there is a benefit that has yielded to our fight against drugs."

Customs officials seized more than 16,000 pounds of cocaine along the border in the last six months, almost twice as much as the same period last year. At border crossings in McAllen, Texas, seizures of methamphetamine are up 425 percent, and at Laredo, heroin seizures are up 172 percent. Enforcement makes a difference along the border and in the airports, while the cost and risks to traffickers go up, the director said.

The second myth, Hutchinson said, is that U.S. prisons are filled with drug users.

"If you look at all the drug cases in federal prison, 95 percent of the drug cases are for trafficking offenses, and the five percent that are for drug offenses are usually those that have been plea bargained down or they are convicted of multiple offenses," the director said. "In federal prison, they are clearly for trafficking. It is nonsense that our jails are filled with casual users."

Another myth perpetuated in America, Hutchinson said, is that marijuana is not harmful.

"Young people need to be told the honest risk," he said, "because risk and the understanding of those risks discourage use."

The director pointed out that more than 225,000 Americans are in treatment programs for marijuana addiction, and more teens are in treatment for marijuana addiction than any other drug, including alcohol.

"So why do they do they go to treatment for marijuana? Because it's a harmful substance that has an addiction capability and in some instances leads to other drug use," Hutchinson said.

The fourth myth is that there are not any new ideas in the fight against drugs. Hutchinson pointed out several new programs, including drug treatment courts for non-violent individuals who have addiction and crime problems.

"Instead of going into prison, you go into a treatment program with accountability with drug testing, a rigorous treatment program, reporting to the court and if you don't move successfully through that program, you will have the threat of going to jail," he said.

The program, with support from President Bush, has resulted in a 70 percent success rate, Hutchinson said.

"We're trying to tie together what we do in law enforcement with the other side of what we're trying to do in the anti-drug arena," he said. "That is to increase the treatment of individuals to get over addiction problems. They tie together. They are not in opposition to each other."

As he concluded his remarks, Hutchinson used one of Texas' most famous stories - the words written by Lt. Col. William Barrett Travis on Feb. 24, 1836, during the siege on the Alamo - to illustrate how America can win the war on drugs today.

"We should not surrender, we should not give in," Hutchinson said. "Doing so would be giving up the opportunity for success at making our country better, stronger and freer, and in doing so, I believe that we will strengthen that American character that was so important in 1836 and that American character that is so important today and that American character that will be so important to the next generation."

Hutchinson was the inaugural speaker in the Public Leadership Series, a new initiative at Baylor designed to increase understanding of government and the ideal of public service in society. The series also takes advantage of Baylor's proximity to President Bush's Western White House in Crawford and the government leaders who often visit this part of the state.

"Preparing our students for leadership is central to Baylor's mission," said Baylor President Robert B. Sloan, who introduced the director. "This program will feature current and former policymakers who are engaged in the public debate and can challenge our students to think critically about domestic and world affairs."

Hutchinson was in the midst of his third term as a congressman from Arkansas' Third District when President Bush nominated him on Aug. 8, 2001, to be director of the DEA. During his tenure, he has focused the resources of the agency on combating drug trafficking and promoting prevention and treatment programs. He successfully orchestrated efforts to arrest key leadership of the Arellano Felix Organization, the most powerful and violent trafficking organization in Mexico, and served the first-ever indictments of known terrorists engaged in drug trafficking.

While in Congress, Hutchinson served on the Speaker's Task Force for a Drug-Free America and the House Judiciary and Select Intelligence Committees, two panels with oversight responsibilities of U.S. drug policy.

Before being elected to Congress, Hutchinson practiced law in Arkansas for 21 years, trying more than 100 jury trials. Former President Ronald Reagan appointed Hutchinson as U.S. Attorney for Western Arkansas at the age of 31, making him the youngest U.S. Attorney in the nation.

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