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Education called key to drug-free kids

America will never be completely free of illegal drugs, according to the office charged with setting national drug-control policy. But the problem can -- and must -- be brought under control.

"We don't believe the drug problem will ever be zero, but we can take it a lot lower," said Dr. Donald R. Vereen Jr., deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Vereen filled in for Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, national drug czar, who had been scheduled to give the keynote address.Speaking to hundreds of people at the University of Utah as part of the School on Alcohol and Other Drug Dependencies Monday morning, Vereen outlined the office's five-goal plan to reduce illegal drug use in the United States.

The goal is to cut drug use in half by 2007, he said.

They hope to teach American children about drugs, alcohol and tobacco so that they will be able to reject them.

With education and empowerment, "we will inoculate healthy people from getting sick." But that alone won't be enough and "boosters," much like those children get with vaccinations against childhood diseases, will be needed.

The other four goals are those boosters.

The office hopes to increase the safety of American cities by substantially reducing crime and violence. National research has shown that drug use is "inextricably linked" to crime and violence. And achieving the goal will mean strengthening law enforcement efforts.

Vereen said one problem in separating addicts from criminal activity is that too few drug treatment programs exist. "If we can treat these criminal folks, they will be less likely to do crimes."

That also ties into the third goal, which is reducing the health and social costs to the public of illegal drug use.

That national office will push for drug-free work places, education and research. "Research should drive what we're doing."

Another goal is shutting down the borders to prevent illegal drugs from getting through, whether by air, land or sea, by coordinating multiple agencies' efforts for border control.

Finally, the plan calls for putting both foreign and domestic drug sources out of business.

One horrible problem, Vereen said, is that that United States has become a "producer country." Marijuana, methamphetamine and many new designer drugs are now being manufactured here.

Addiction is a process that actually alters the brain, according to Vereen. So research is also being done to see if those alterations can be treated or changed.

Methamphetamine, which has become popular in Utah and surrounding states, has proven to be difficult to control and has changed the face of illegal drug use, he said. For one thing, manufacturers have learned how to run drug labs so small they can be operated out of the trunk of a car.