The war against illicit drugs must be taken directly into communities and the people who live there encouraged to participate, according to the new director of national drug policy.
Bob Martinez was sworn in Thursday as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Friday, he made his first official appearance - in Salt Lake City - speaking to the National Prevention Network's fourth annual conference.The anti-drug road for the teacher-turned-governor began in a poverty-wracked area of his native Florida. On weekends, he liked to load his dog into the car and drive around, stopping to visit with his constituents. He was shocked one day to see 10- and 12-year-old boys sitting on shiny new mopeds in front of a tenement.
Local police told him they thought the children were "spotters" for the drug trade. In exchange for watching for police, the boys were allowed to use the new mopeds and paid for their time.
"That's how I got involved," Martinez said. "I thought it was just awful."
For years, people have refused to believe there's a serious problem with illicit drugs in the United States. "It's always somebody else's child, somebody else's neighborhood, somebody else's employer. Now we have a problem. More and more people are coming to the forefront to participate (in campaigns against illegal drugs). We have a long, long way to go," he said, adding that America is making progress.
"Every year, hundreds of thousands of kids reach the age where they can begin experimenting with drugs . . . I am hoping we can work together to be sure we get funding that allows us to move forward. We've got too long a way to go to let there be any cooling down."
According to Martinez, wiping out drugs has three parts: People who have never tried them must be educated so they never do; those who are on drugs must be helped off them; and dealers must learn that there's no money to be made pushing drugs in the United States.
Federal dollars have increased in the past few years as officials target the drug trade for eradication, he said. This year, the budget shows an 11-percent increase for anti-drug efforts.
"It's a marathon, not a sprint. I'm prepared for the marathon."
Unfortunately, focus on specific drugs like crack cocaine may have given young people the impression that other illegal substances like marijuana are okay, Martinez said. That's not the case. But education will be the key.
"Education to me is more than a school - it's community-based," Martinez said. "It's finding the natural leaders in a community and convincing them to be part of that initiative. We have to go where the people are an not expect them to know our address. And wherever (the drugs) go, that's where we've got to be."