Speech

Asa Hutchinson
Administrator
Drug Enforcement Administration
Prevention First Conference
Orlando, Florida
December 6, 2001
(as delivered)

photo - Administrator Hutchinson
Asa Hutchinson
Administrator

 

 

 

Prevention First logo

 

 

 

 

 

photo - Governor Bush
Governor Jeb Bush

 

 

 

photo - Iwo Jima Memorial
Iwo Jima Memorial
to World War II

 

 

 

photo - Senator Hutchinson
Senator
Tim Hutchinson

 

 

 

"I compliment you on your plan to reduce drug abuse by 50 percent by 2005."
  -Asa Hutchinson

 

 

photo - Senator Biden
Senator
Joe Biden

 

 

 

 

photo - Ecstasy pills
Ectasy pills

 

 

 

photo - opium products
Opium Products

 

 

 

photo - crack cocaine
Crack Cocaine

 

 

 

"At the DEA, we believe in prevention."
  -Asa Hutchinson

 

 

 

photo - Oxycontin pills
Oxycontin pills

 

I’m honored to be here, and I want to congratulate each of you for your commitment and work in drug prevention. As Jim McDonough mentioned, I am the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Frank Chellino, who does a great job as Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Miami Field Division, is also here. I’m very proud of the DEA.

Jim mentioned the brave men and women of the DEA, and when I think about the work our agents do in places like Colombia and on the many task forces here, there’s no doubt they face many dangers. We even have agents in Peshwar, Pakistan, very close to the Afghanistan border. Now that’s close to the action, and they’re doing great work. But it is dangerous. One of the first calls I had to make as DEA Administrator was to a task force officer shot in the line of duty. Truly our agents are courageous, and they are making a great difference in reducing the supply of drugs and increasing the risk to traffickers.

That said, some people might wonder why the head of the nation’s top drug law enforcement agency is at this prevention conference. The answer is, as the new head of the DEA, I came here with a simple message. I believe in drug education and drug prevention. But the DEA has been a leader in this field long before I came here. I’m here simply to communicate a message that the DEA wants to be a strong partner with you in prevention and treatment.

Jim, I want to thank you for your leadership in the anti-drug effort. If we could simply duplicate you in 50 places across the country, we would make enormous strides in our nation’s anti-drug effort. (applause)

We’ve got a lot of energetic groups here. I know we even have some people here from Arkansas, and I’m glad that you’re here supporting Florida in this effort. I also met some great folks from Florida Youth Challenge Academy last night. I was very proud of the work those young people do, and we’re here to applaud that work.

I’m also here to express appreciation for the work of Governor Jeb Bush. I think he’s doing an extraordinary job in providing leadership in Florida and setting an example for other states. I tremendously enjoyed visiting with Mrs. Bush yesterday. I thank her for hosting this conference and for her strong statements to the youth of Florida. Thank you, Mrs. Bush, for what you do. (applause)

I also simply want to encourage you. I think we have great opportunities now. Everyone asks me, what’s different since September 11. In fact, I testified yesterday in Congress on the impact September 11th has had on our counternarcotics effort. There’s a broad answer to that. But one thing I wanted to emphasize is that we have a unique opportunity because of Americans’ increased sense of responsibility since the terrorist attacks.

History tells us that in a time of national emergency, values in society have a way of being clarified. Somehow the fuzziness goes away. The gray areas are diminished. Now it’s not just illegal to use drugs. It’s not just harmful to do drugs, but there’s a sense that using drugs has a way of helping those people who do violence against our society—and even the terrorist organizations themselves. I believe we’re entering into an increased era of responsibility. We should take advantage of that.

One of the instances in history that we can see this time of national emergency was World War II. During World War II, drug use in America was reduced to the lowest level in the history of our country. It was an era of responsibility. We in the drug prevention community need to seize upon that new era of responsibility.

I mentioned Governor Jeb Bush and the great work he’s doing in the drug prevention arena. I also have something else in common with him outside of drug prevention. That is we both have a brother in politics. Jim didn’t mention this, but I have a brother in the United States Senate. It was a proud day for my mom in 1996 when he got elected to the U.S. Senate, and I got elected to the U.S. Congress.

But it’s not all rosy when you’re brothers. There’s that spirit of competition that does not stop just because you’re in politics. I’ll never forget after we both got elected, we wanted to catch up with each other, so we stopped at a Shoney’s Restaurant in Russellville, Arkansas, at about 11:00 at night. We got a booth and kicked back. After a little while, we noticed the manager was looking at us and clearly recognized us. He started coming toward us, so we both sat up ready to be recognized. We were in my district, after all. Well, he offended me greatly because he ignored me completely and made a beeline straight toward my brother, Tim, and said to him, “Sir has anyone ever told you look a lot like Asa Hutchinson?” (laughter) He hates it when I tell that story. (laughter)

Now let me return to a more important subject—and that is what a great job Florida is doing in setting a national example. I was in Ft. Lauderdale recently, and I had the opportunity to visit Judge Melanie May’s drug court in Broward County. That’s just a terrific example of what the community is doing, what Governor Bush is doing, and what you all are doing in advocating drug courts so that you have 77 drug courts in operation or being planned.

I’m a supporter of drug courts. I went to Youngstown, Ohio, to speak at a drug court graduation. I listened very carefully to the graduates. One was a young lady who had a cocaine addiction and had been charged with breaking and entering. But she successfully completed the drug court program and was free from her addiction. As she received her diploma, she hugged the judge, and she turned to the arresting officer, and said “Thank you for saving my life.”

That tells me how important enforcement is preventing and treating drug abuse. Many times a law enforcement operation will trigger both education and treatment. Florida has done marvelously in that arena.

I compliment you on your plan to reduce drug abuse by 50 percent by 2005. It’s an ambitious plan, but one that ought to be modeled across the country.

You recognize that reducing drug use must be accomplished by parents, by communities, and not simply by the government. I come into this arena not just as a former Federal Prosecutor and not just as a former Member of Congress. I come into this arena as a parent who raised four teenagers. I know how tough it is.

I had to testify twice this week before Congress. One of them was on Ecstasy and the rave clubs. I told Senator Biden that during my confirmation, my teenage son came to me and asked if he could go to a rave. Let me tell you, that’s a challenge for a parent. But I had the advantage coming from law enforcement. I was able to learn about the rave event and the fact that there was actually going to be a DEA operation on that rave club, and so I was told not to let my son go.

But most parents don’t have that same advantage. It was unknown to them the same rave promoter that advertises a drug and alcohol-free environment and security, was planning on distributing 1,000 Ecstasy pills at that event. That kind of misleading information makes it difficult and a challenge to parents.

In my judgment, Ecstasy is the fastest growing drug problem among teens. I don’t think we’ve reached the end of the curve yet. I think we’re still on an uphill climb as to the level of damage it’s going to do in our society. One of the reasons for that is there is so much misleading information about this drug.

I had the opportunity to go to Denver, Colorado, to announce the arrest and prosecution of about 30 individuals in an Ecstasy distribution ring. The case started out on the 16th birthday of Britney Chambers. On her birthday, one of her friends gave her an Ecstasy pill that killed her. Local law enforcement arrested the perpetrator that distributed that pill. But the DEA was able to get back to the organization that brought those pills into the country, and even back to the original source in the Netherlands.

What was troubling to me was that after Britney Chambers died, headlines in the newspapers read “Tainted Ecstasy Kills Teen.” The news story made it seem that Ecstasy alone wasn’t enough to kill, only if it was tainted. The fact is in Britney’s case, it wasn’t tainted. It was pure Ecstasy. This is the kind of knowledge gap we’re up against—the belief that Ecstasy is somehow safe. I am thankful for the researchers who are showing the extraordinary health consequences of using Ecstasy, because it is clear that education on harm strongly influences a teenager’s decision to use drugs.

That is the second great challenge we have—educating young people about the harm. According to CASA’s 2001 survey, for the 6th year in a row, drugs are the most important problem teens face. That means that it’s not just a battle we’re gong to face this year or next year. It’s an ongoing problem. I had to work through it with my teenagers. My son is going to have to work through it with my grandchildren. Every generation’s going to have to face this problem.

Many people express amazement that we haven’t solved the drug problem since we engaged the war against drugs in the 1980s. But, it wasn’t the 1980s that we started this effort against drugs, it was the 1880s. It’s not 20 years we’ve been engaged in this battle, but over 120 years. In the 1880s, the opium addiction in this nation was higher per capita than it is today. That was a time when opium and cocaine were legal. It led to huge addiction problems and crime problems, and city councils and legislatures soon regulated and criminalized drug use. Clearly, we have to learn from history that it’s a long struggle we’re engaged in. I know that we lose patience and we say we wish the battle was over, but it’s an ongoing struggle that we have to work through.

I mentioned that I’m a strong supporter of drug courts. But there’s a movement in our country that undermines that system. In California, they passed it as Proposition 36, which had a great appeal because it reduced the incarceration rate for people with addiction problems and gave them a treatment option. That’s a positive thing. But the problem was there was no accountability in that system that mandated probation rather than incarceration. It didn’t have accountability in terms of drug testing, reporting to the judge, and mandatory treatment. There’s a real gap there. I know that you’re facing this here in Florida. Please educate the public on exactly what these pro-treatment proposals are about.

What is our response to these many challenges we face? Well, there’s probably a temptation for those on the front line to say that the battle against drugs is simply overwhelming, and there’s not much we can do about it. It’s sort of like the older man in Arkansas who was caught stealing a horse. He was brought before the Judge, who wanted to set an example because there had been a lot of horse thievery. The Judge sentenced the old man to 40 years in prison. The man responded, “Judge, I’m 60 years old. I’ll never live long enough to serve out my sentence.” “Well,” the Judge responded “Just do the best you can.” (laughter)

Perhaps those engaged in the anti-drug effort may feel some sympathy for that view, but we should not be content with that attitude. Our efforts do make a difference. We should have hope and express hope in what we do. During the last 15 years, drug use is down by half; cocaine use is down by 75 percent – That’s four million people fewer who are using that drug on a regular basis than 15 years ago. One of those could have been your family member or my family member. It certainly makes a difference.

Some social problems clearly take a long time to solve. Our anti-drug effort should not be viewed differently. How many times do you hear people talk about the problem of child abuse and say we’re not making enough progress, so let’s throw in the towel. No one says that because you’re making a difference in lives of people.

There was a Pew Research poll that cited that 54% of Americans said we were “losing ground” on our anti-drugs efforts. About the same number—53%—said we’re also losing ground on education and health care. Does that mean we shouldn’t fight for better education and health care? Of course not. We should not judge our efforts in the anti-drug arena by a different standard.

Your response is absolutely correct. We engage in this battle by building community coalitions—people that are working together to prevent the use of drugs, building support at the local level, and coming up with local solutions.

I’ll tell you the story about Fernandina Beach, Florida, a town of about 10,000. The Chief of Police asked the DEA for help a couple of years ago because they had a huge crack cocaine problem. Open-air drug markets were operating 24 hours a day. We sent in what we call a Mobile Enforcement Team. Our agents move into a community, make the arrests, and dismantle the organization. In Fernandina Beach, they did that very effectively. But after the organization was dismantled, the community asked “Do we want another drug organization to come in?” Of course, the answer was no, and the DEA agreed. And so a community coalition was built. The community worked together on a long-term solution that made a difference. Today, the community is totally different because of that coalition.

At the DEA, we believe in prevention. We have Omar Aleman here who is a DEA agent assigned to our demand reduction efforts, and we have one of these coordinators in every division in the country. This effort was started in the 1980s, but it hasn’t had any increase in 15 years. Under my leadership, we’re going to expand the demand reduction program. We’re going to put more Omars in the field. (applause)

We’re also going to do what you’ve done in Florida. When we move in with a law enforcement operation, we do not want the competition to be between those in law enforcement and those in prevention. We want to have an integrated approach. We want to have a team effort. Our agents want to have a longer term impact. We want to make sure a year or two after we dismantle a drug organization, other drug traffickers do not fill the void. Doing that takes a team effort.

One coalition in Sarasota had a different twist in their prevention efforts. We think of drug prevention in terms of teens, but you know there in Sarasota, they’re working with the elderly to address the prescription drug diversion problem, particularly with OxyContin. We forget the elderly sometimes.

photo - Senator Specter
Senator
Arlen Specter

 

photo - Orlando Magic logo
Orlando Magic

I was in Pennsylvania recently at Senator Specter’s request, and he wanted me to see a treatment facility that was accomplishing great successes. We had everyone tell their story. One individual said he got addicted to cocaine at the age of 50. It was extraordinary. He was a successful businessman. At 50, we don’t know what causes someone to make the jump to drugs.

We have to remember that drug prevention is critically about teens. Absolutely. But I’m delighted that in Florida you’ve expanded beyond that and recognized that there are drug problems in many different arenas.

In conclusion, let me say that we have challenges. But when we focus on individual lives that are reclaimed and community solutions, then we should all be optimistic about our future.

I recently saw in the Orlando Sentinel a letter to the editor from a 12-year old boy. He was writing about how important he felt it was to keep the Magic basketball team here in Orlando.

The boy talked about what great things the team did for the city, and the first among those he listed was drug prevention work. He wrote, “I’m proud to have the Magic here, not just because it’s fun to watch them play, but also because they do a lot of good in our community. The players are always going around to schools telling kids not to take drugs…”

What a great expression of hope, and optimism, and confidence in leadership by a young boy. He expressed that we’re all looking for mentors. We’re all looking for someone to reach down and give a helping hand. You are doing that.

Often the results of your work are hard to quantify. But surely whenever we see drug abuse decline and crime go down, we sense the real lasting value of what we’re accomplishing. I’m thankful for your leadership and your commitment. Because I know that it makes a difference in the lives of individuals. In my judgment, it also makes a difference in the life of our country.

Someone said that a person’s character will determine his future. The same is true for our nation. How this generation handles the problem of drugs will say a lot about its character. And it will go a long way in determining our nation’s future. Thank you for your work. God bless you.

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