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TOO MUCH RED TAPE IN DRUG WAR

A Senate study that criticizes the Bush administration "war on drugs" as a $32 billion failure can be partially dismissed as an election-year attack from a Democratic-controlled body. But there are some disturbing facts in the study that indicate the drug war may be too much bogged down in bureaucracy.

The heralded "war" was launched three years ago, but since then, the report said the drug-related murder rate has been the highest for any three-year period in American history; three million Americans have become addicted to cocaine; one million addicts are unable to get treatment; only one in 10 pregnant addicts get treatment; and 900,000 babies were born addicted.The figures are heartbreaking, but not every drug problem can be blamed on failure of the president to act. After all, a growing drug problem has afflicted America through administrations of both parties and cuts across all political boundaries.

But some items cited in the report indicate the need for more vigorous action to streamline the bureaucracy.

For example, there are 41 different federal agencies with anti-drug responsibilities. Congress has mandated that they be consolidated. Unfortunately, that consolidation has not happened.

There is no valid excuse for such a bureaucratic nightmare, the inevitable working at cross purposes and turf wars. This duplication of effort only wastes scarce resources.

However, the report noted some successes, including increases in the number of federal drug law enforcement agents and the number of federal-state-local task forces. In addition, higher cocaine prices and lower quality cocaine being sold on the street is evidence that police pressure has reduced supplies.

Such achievements hardly allow the Senate report to classify the war on drugs as a failure. Pointing fingers and trying to fix political blame for a drug problem that is neither Republican nor Democratic is a disservice to the country and should be abandoned.

But the numbers cited in the study do indicate that the nation should perhaps re-examine the focus of the drug war. It appears that the country ought to be putting more effort into education of schoolchildren and treatment of addicts, in addition to the usual law enforcement.

The flow of illegal drugs into America can never be completely shut off. But educated children and cured addicts can make the potential market smaller and discourage drug traffickers.