DEA OFFICIAL, CITING DROP IN AVAILABILITY AND USE OF NARCOTICS, SAYS DRUG WAR MAKING AN IMPACT
GATLINBURG - The war on illegal drugs is making slow but steady progress despite allegations by critics who charge that law enforcement has proven ineffective in stemming drug use, the head of the nation's anti-drug efforts said Tuesday.
Administrator Karen Tandy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said that aggressively pursuing the drug war has led to a reduction in drug use and availability, but she complained that the media doesn't report the issue fairly.
"Good news doesn't sell," Tandy said. "You won't read about it in the press."
Tandy, who addressed an auditorium packed with police officers and prosecutors as part of the annual Gatlinburg Law Enforcement Conference, took the stage about two hours before Attorney General Alberto Gonzales arrived.
Tandy said that LSD use among teenagers "is at the basement level"
because of strict enforcement of drug laws, that cocaine use has been falling and that there has been a 61 percent drop in ecstasy use during the past two years.
Tandy also said she was especially proud of the amount of money that has been seized from drug offenders, although she conceded that "we've barely hit the tip of the iceberg" in denting the $65-billion-a-year illegal drug trade in the United States.
Tandy said that drug seizures are "on track this year to hit $1 billion" and predicted that amount will eventually climb to $3 billion a year.
"And that's more money, by the way, that will be going back to you,"
she told the assembly of hundreds of law enforcement officers in a reference to state and federal laws that allow funds seized during drug busts to be returned to the agencies that confiscate them.
East Tennessee officials who attended the conference were especially concerned by the amount of methamphetamine use in the area, and Tandy said the good news is that meth is waning in popularity with teens.
Still, she said, more attention needs to be paid to the most vulnerable victims of the meth problem - children who are exposed to toxins during the clandestine manufacturing process.
"We have to work as hard to get these children channeled into a system that gives them a chance," Tandy said, "You are their chance at life."
She also said that agencies have been instructed to pool their resources and channel the worst meth offenders into federal court, where they face longer prison sentences if convicted.
Russ Dedrick, First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, discussed the activities of the South/East Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force.
The task force coordinates the efforts of dozens of agencies to combat meth throughout East Tennessee, Dedrick explained, and has led to the conviction of 500 people on meth charges in federal court and "three times that many in state courts."
Tennessee leads the southeast U.S. in the number of clandestine meth labs discovered by authorities, Dedrick said. In 2004, for instance, authorities busted 1,355 meth labs in the state compared to only 321 seized in North Carolina, according to figures provided by Dedrick.
Dedrick stressed the important of interagency cooperation and educating the public about the dangers of meth. "We've got to be responsible in our enforcement efforts," he said.