Drug strategy may shift effort into prevention Clinton studies putting emphasis on helping users


WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration is planning radical change in national drug policy, shifting the federal focus away from catching smugglers and dealers to treating those who use drugs, says the New York Daily News.

The strategy overhaul, still in the works, could move the office of National Drug Control Policy -- the nation's drug czar -- out of the White House hierarchy and put it under another department.

"We're thinking of putting it somewhere else," Clinton transition chairman Vernon Jordan said of the office. Transition spokeswoman Marla Romash said, "No decisions have been made; a lot of ideas are on the table."

But sources said the administration is mulling putting drug policy under the Justice Department or Health and Human Services.

The change in philosophy -- cutting drug supply by cutting demand -- is embraced by Democrats in Congress and drug-abuse pros advising Mr. Clinton.

But the idea of eliminating or downgrading the autonomous drug czar is drawing fire from some Democrats and at least one Republican.

"I really don't know where Mr. Clinton is going with this problem," said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Select Committee on Narcotics, who pushed for the czar's creation in 1988 over the Reagan administration's objections. "I've been trying to nail down the new administration on the need for somebody strong in this area."

Conservative Republican William Bennett, President Bush's first drug czar, said, ". . . We need somebody whose job is to worry about this problem all the time."

In addition to shifting the emphasis of the war on drugs, moving the drug czar and his staff of 100 employees to a Cabinet-level department also would help Mr. Clinton fulfill his campaign promise to cut the White House staff.

Kennington Wall, of the non-profit Drug Policy Foundation, favored the policy change, calling the White House drug office "just another layer of bureaucracy . . . ."

He said the agency has "become a political dumping ground" under ex-Florida Gov. Bob Martinez.

According to Mr. Wall, the Clinton team has solicited advice on drug control from the Rand Corp.'s Peter Reuter, Harvard's Mark Kleinman and Dr. Mathea Falco, a visiting fellow at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.

All three agree that the international and military efforts at interdicting drugs have been a "waste of money and a complete failure," Mr. Wall said.

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