Is Southwest Louisiana winning the war on drugs?

By Brandon Richards - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) – It's been forty years since President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs by signing the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.

Nixon said drugs were "public enemy number one" in America.

Since that time, trillions of dollars have been spent on the War on Drugs. According to the Justice Department, the U.S. spends $215 billion combating drugs every year. That's more than the federal government spends annually on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined.

According to a report from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, nearly 18,000 drug-related arrests were made in Louisiana in 2008 alone. According to the same report, cocaine is the "predominant drug threat in Louisiana because of the high rate of addiction and violence associated with the drug." However, according to Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier, pharmaceutical drugs have become the recent phenomenon in Southwest Louisiana.

"Generally the drug problem waxes and wanes. It gets better sometimes then it slows down a little bit," said DeRosier. "I think the American public is not totally aware of the migration and the process from marijuana and LSD and those kinds of drugs to prescription pharmaceuticals."

DeRosier said a spike in drug-related deaths in the parish, starting in 2006, can be attributed directly to abuse of pharmaceutical drugs, which he said were being brought into Southwest Louisiana by people visiting pain management clinics in Southeast Texas.

"In 2006, for example, Calcasieu Parish lost 68 people to death by overdose," said DeRosier. "In 2008, we were able to reduce that number from 65 deaths the year before to 33 deaths. In 2009, we were able to cut that number down even further to 25."

DeRosier did not know off-hand how much is spent on combating drugs locally, but said, "I will tell you it is a very, very significant amount of dollars."

DeRosier said his office only makes a slight distinction between street drugs and pharmaceutical drugs.

"A drug dealer is a drug dealer," he said. "We probably treat possession cases a little bit differently, depending on why one started out becoming a possessor of prescription pain killers. Many people took them because of an injury and just never quite graduated from the use of those prescription pain killers."

Even though pharmaceutical drug abuse has taken a lot of the focus of law enforcement, other drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine remain a serious problem.

"Crack is a major problem," said DeRosier. "I think it's probably a little more under control than it was five years ago. We are seeing a resurgence with methamphetamine, however."

Eight administrations have waged the War on Drugs. Some don't think the U.S. will ever win the war, but DeRosier is confident the battle can at least be won in Calcasieu Parish.

"If we eliminate the direct and indirect problems law enforcement has related to drugs, we could reduce crimes probably by 70 percent," he said.

To read the Obama Administration's National Drug Control Strategy, click here.

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