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OPINION

Time to Fully Support Our Drug Enforcers – If Not Now, When?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Katie Pavlich/Townhall Media

America has always been a nation with great capacity to tackle major challenges. When confronted by existential threats like Nazism, communism, or terrorism, we have always found the resolve, the focus, and the resources to do what’s right, what’s necessary, and persevere.  In countless cases, American grit, tenacity, and innovation coalesced to achieve astounding feats and to right colossal wrongs.  

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Our country is once again facing a peril that continues to spiral out of control – one that currently kills approximately 110,000 Americans every year, and rising. That’s more than the number of U.S. troops killed in action in WWI. Yet, unlike that purely military threat from over a century ago, today’s menace is more insidious, more proximate, and more devastating to our domestic health and security.  And it is one that still requires an equivalent level of national courage and determination.

The deleterious scourge of drug use and trafficking ravaging the country now is a multifaceted problem that requires not just compassionate and therapeutic responses promoting treatment and prevention, but robust government action to reduce the supply of drugs through the effective targeting and dismantling of those individuals and organizations – both foreign and domestic – that flood our communities with deadly substances.  And while we will never be able to reduce illicit drug use to zero, we can reduce trafficking and abuse to more manageable levels where the impact to our economy, social harmony, public health, and public safety is minimized.  

Of course, this calamity has not materialized out of thin air.  The last several years have seen a corrosive combination of social disruption and isolation from the pandemic, rising crime, destructive anti-law and order policies (which are now being rethought in places where said policies have led to folly), and meteoric transnational criminality and exploitation along our open borders.  The growth in narcotics trafficking and use over the last several years runs through all of these other challenges in some form or fashion and clearly exacerbates other problems, from suicide, depression and homelessness to domestic violence and workplace accidents.

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It is for all these reasons that policymakers in Washington need to tackle this threat now, head on, and without delay.  Fortunately, the tools, technical resources and agency expertise exist to do so. That said, what is needed is concentrated focus on this problem through interagency cooperation (instead of jockeying over funding), commitment to the effort, and support for the nation’s law enforcement officers working the threat on the street, at the border, and in the international arena.  

At the federal level, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is the tip-of-the-spear agency in this fight – but they require the kinds of support that allows them to effectively assist their state and local partners as they battle the drug epidemic in our communities.  As a single-mission agency, DEA’s drug control efforts are laser-focused on a problem that is laying waste to our nation, and with the linkage between drugs, drug traffickers, and other crimes, investing in DEA synergistically produces gains against overall crime, terrorism and social decay.

Another unsung program that blunts the harm from drugs and drug-related crime is actually the U.S. National Guard – specifically, the National Guard Counterdrug Program (NG CDP).  Most Americans are likely unaware of the NG CDP, but the program has been in existence for decades, working hand-in-glove with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement to reduce drug trafficking and drug demand.  

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NG CDP’s unique legal authorities, skills and capabilities provide key support to law enforcement, while helping maintain the military proficiency of Guardsmen and women doing a real mission, against a real enemy.  Of course, the work done by the NG CDP on a daily basis in combatting drugs is often cross-applied to other missions and contributes to higher readiness, morale, and operational capability.  It is a force-multiplying program that keeps an important part of America’s combat power sharp and attuned to the latest threats while helping keep American communities safe in real-time.  

Unfortunately, NG CDP has been funded at levels significantly lower than their statutorily-authorized amount for years.  The program’s end strength calls for 4,000 Guardsmen and women – yet the annual appropriations never come near that requirement.  Moreover, multiple administrations and congresses have endlessly played a ping-pong budget game that leaves the NG CDP (and their partners back home in the states) in a continued annual state of uncertainty in their ability to address the threat.  Budget unreliability leads to inconsistent resource allocation and planning, a reality the criminals never have to worry about.

The sad fact is that even though our nation seems to be pulling out of the immense social destruction from covid, we’ll be saddled with its repercussions for years.  And while the opioid crisis certainly pre-dated covid, the pandemic only exacerbated the problem, and it does not show any signs of receding.  Misguided legalization efforts in parts of the country have done nothing to erode the power of criminal cartels or reduce harm.  In fact, new polling suggests that a majority of Oregon citizens regret their radical, sweeping drug decriminalization efforts because of its links to other widening social ills.  

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So, as Congress works up its budget for the next year, and as decision-makers in Washington grapple with the unyielding drug crisis and the destruction it has wrought, one solution lies in ensuring the most effective entities against drug trafficking and drug crime – like the DEA and the NG CDP – are supported at their intended and necessary levels.  Given the monumental, record-breaking crisis the country is facing, now is the time to put our collective, full weight against this problem. 

If not now, when?  

Jeff Stamm is a 40-year law enforcement veteran, having served as a Deputy Sheriff in Sacramento County, California; a Special Agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; and as the Executive Director of the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). He is also the author of “On Dope: Drug Enforcement and The First Policeman.”

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