Speech

Asa Hutchinson
Administrator
Drug Enforcement Administration
Mahoning County Drug Court Graduation
Youngstown, Ohio
October 12, 2001

(NOTE: THE ADMINISTRATOR OFTEN DEVIATES FROM PREPARED REMARKS)

photo of Administrator Hutchinson
DEA Administrator
Asa Hutchinson

 

 

 

photo - DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson at ground zero in New York City.
DEA Administrator Asa
Hutchinson at ground zero
in New York City.

 

 

photo - Mahoning County Judge John Durkin with DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson
Mahoning County Judge John
Durkin (left) with DEA
Administrator Asa Hutchinson

 

 

“...strike a blow against terrorism... stop the demand for drugs in our country.”

     -Asa Hutchinson

Thank you very much for that kind welcome, and I just want to speak from my heart for a few minutes. Judge Durkin, I’m grateful to be in your courtroom, and I’ve wanted to say for a long time, “May it please the court.” I practiced law for 26 years, so it feels good to be back in a courtroom, particularly for this occasion.

Last night, the President of the United States held a news conference and talked about the enormous crisis in our country and how we all need to be on alert—how we’re going through a tough time, but that we all need to get back to business. Yesterday, I was in New York City. I went to ground zero and I saw what could happen to our country and witnessed the incredible scene that reflects the crisis that we are now in, but the President said we’ve got to live our lives.

And I think the President would be the first to say that, despite all the things that are happening in the world and in our country, what is happening in this courtroom is important. And you all need to understand that. And, Judge, what you are doing is very important, and what the Board that supports this drug court is doing is extremely important.

I was in the United States Congress. I enjoyed serving my state of Arkansas, and being a part of history. But the President of the United States called me and asked if I would head up the Drug Enforcement Administration. And I’m old fashioned enough to believe you say ‘yes’ to the President. So I left Congress to take on this responsibility. And it is extraordinary.

It’s extraordinary because I lead the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is one of the finest agencies in fighting drugs in the world. The President said he wants a balanced approach to our enforcement efforts. That’s why what we’re doing in the drug court arena, what parents are doing, and what communities are doing, is important. And so I’m out speaking not only about what we’re doing in the DEA, but also about what folks like the Judge are doing, and what the community is doing in fighting the terrible national difficulty we face with drugs.

I’m delighted to be here because you graduates made it through a very tough program. And you need to understand that what you’ve done is significant. I know it was not easy. Some people try to get through drug rehab in 30 days, then they fall back and they don’t have success, and they retreat into the habit of addiction. But you have demonstrated that you can do it. You have set an example. With help, with family, with the strength of your own character—that perhaps you even doubted yourself—you were able to accomplish a very, very difficult task. And so I have come here from Washington representing the DEA—which you might not think of as your friend (laughter)—to say you’ve done well and to thank you for what you’ve done and the example you’ve set.

And there are two questions I get asked a lot. One is “Why do you talk about drug courts so much?” I talk about drug courts because we in law enforcement know that we can arrest the drug trafficker, which we’re going to continue to do, and we can put people in jail, but until we stop the demand for drugs in our country, we’re really not going to solve completely the battle we face as a nation.

So what you’re doing is important: stopping the addiction, reducing the demand. If you want to strike a blow against terrorism, then stop the demand for drugs in our country, because many times that’s what funds and gives revenues to those who want to wreak violence upon our society. And so I support drug courts because they complement the law, they enforce the law, and they bring accountability.

The second question I get asked is, “Have you seen the movie Traffic?” Well, yes I have seen it. And it may come as a surprise to some, but I think it’s a good movie. It portrays the dangers law enforcement confronts every day and the violence that goes with drug trafficking.

The other thing it does is show how the drug problem touches every life in America—there’s no one that does not have a friend or family member that hasn’t been affected. It was certainly true for the Michael Douglas character in that movie, the drug czar, who had a family member struggling with addiction.

The movie also did something else. It sparked a debate in this country. I spoke with a news commentator who said for the first time he talked to his son about drugs because they went to that movie together. Parents and kids need to talk about the problem of drugs in our society and in our lives. And so Traffic has done some good things.

But one concern I have about the movie is that it says law enforcement is just not that important. That treatment is something separate, that maybe treatment is the only solution. But like the graduate today who thanked the officer for arresting her, you in this program understand that law enforcement has something to do with treatment.

The screenwriter who created the movie Traffic should understand this as well. He was a heroin addict. He went into treatment because in one weekend, his supplier and his two backup dealers were arrested at the same time. He had no options. He was in desperate circumstances, so he went into treatment. And the same thing is true when you look at actor Robert Downey, Jr., in California. A different level, but he also went into treatment program because of an arrest. And so law enforcement supports treatment, and in many times triggers the reality of what we’re facing in our lives. So I think there’s a natural tie between law enforcement and education—we set the boundaries for what’s acceptable. Then law enforcement triggers treatment many times. And so we in law enforcement very much support this type of program. I support the drug court program because it brings accountability within the confines of the law and it showers that accountability with compassion.

I do want to mention a challenge we face. There’s a movement out there—Proposition 36 in California, and I think there’s going to be a proposition on the ballot here (in Ohio). These initiatives seem like good ideas because they allow nonviolent drug offenders to go into treatment. But the difficulty is that these initiatives don’t have the drug testing, they don’t have the accountability, and they don’t have frequent reports to the court. Such a program is doomed to failure because it doesn’t have that accountability. What works is drug courts. When you’re in the court, you’re doing the testing, you have accountability, you have responsibility, and that’s what makes them work. We want drug courts to flourish because they have that accountability and we don’t want them to be undermined in our society.

Mother Theresa was asked how in the world she ministered to so many thousands of people. Her answer was very simple. “One at a time.”

And when we look at this drug court that’s graduating 16 people today, some might ask what kind of dent we made in the problems of America. Well, today we’re making 16 huge dents. We address the drug problem in America one person at a time. Each of you here represents a great victory.

Someone said that the future of a person will be determined by the strength of his or her character. Well, we were once concerned about your future. But you’ve demonstrated your character by getting to this particular point. You relied on the character of yourself and the character of your friends and family. Now you can take it one day at a time. Thank you for what you’ve done.

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