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May 9, 2000

The Domestic Consequences of Heroin Use

The Honorable Senator Charles Grassley
Chairman
Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control

I want to welcome everyone to this morning's hearing. I particularly want to welcome our witnesses, some of whom had to travel long distances to today's hearing.I want to welcome everyone to this morning's hearing. I particularly want to welcome our witnesses, some of whom had to travel long distances to today's hearing.

Our hearing today deals with an unhappy subject. We are going to look at the domestic effects of a new wave of heroin use. This is a flesh and blood problem that touches all of us. We will hear what is happening in our homes and schools across the nation. In rich neighborhoods and poor. In our cities and rural areas. In the lives of our young people and their families. The story of what is happening is going to be told in the voices of those most affected: from addicts and their families, from those who must deal with this problem up close and personally every day. At the end of our story, I hope that you will agree with me that we have a problem we must deal with, not by wringing our hands but by rolling up our sleeves.

No heroin consumed in this country is made here. Every gram of it is grown in some foreign field, processed in a distant, illegal lab, and smuggled into this country. It blossoms on mountainsides in Mexico, Colombia, Afghanistan, Burma, and Laos. Heroin walks, floats, flies, and sneaks across our borders. It comes in all disguises and many guises and all of it is bad.

While the heroin used here comes from overseas, the consequences of its coming are felt in our homes, in our schools, in our neighborhoods. It is our young people who die. It is American families who bear the burden and pay the price. Heroin is an equal opportunity destroyer. It blights inner city streets, suburban neighborhoods, and rural communities alike. I fear that the problem is getting worse. And I am concerned that our current policies are simply not up to the challenge.

Somewhere along the way, we lost the clear, consistent message that the only proper response to drugs is to say an emphatic "NO". We're supposed to be more sophisticated. More tolerant. More willing to listen to notions of making dangerous drugs more available. What all of this "more" has meant is that we have more young people using more drugs at younger ages. Today's heroin is cheaper and purer and more widely available. It is more aggressively marketed and it is presented as being safer, as "user friendly".

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, heroin had a bad rap. All drugs did. That is less true today. In the last several years, heroin use among young people has doubled and attitudes about the dangers of the drug have shifted. While it is true that most of our 12 to 20 year olds still believe it bad, the new heroin that we see on our streets and in our schools is marketed to avoid this stigma. The chief reason that the old heroin was seen as bad was because you needed a needle to use it. With the new heroin you can get high from smoking or inhaling, at least at first. And we now have well-moneyed think tank talking heads who preach that the only consequence of heroin addiction is a mild case of constipation. That it is our drug laws that are dangerous not the drugs. In such an environment, we should not be too surprised that an increasing number of young people should be persuaded that heroin is okay.

Communities in Plano, Texas and Orlando, Florida learned this to their dismay when dozens of high school kids died from heroin overdoses. I can think of no pain greater than that of a parent who must bid farewell forever to a child. It is somehow contrary to the natural order for a parent to precede a child in death. But the pain of addiction is a spreading circle of hurt. As you will hear this morning, other communities are equally affected and the hurt and the harm go beyond death.

Later today, I will offer legislation that I hope will help us address this problem. I am proposing that we look at the means to improve our prevention message to stop drug use before it starts. I hope to revitalize community and parent involvement. I propose increased resources for addiction research, and I am calling for a new initiative to support juvenile residential treatment programs that work.

It's not just a new heroin that plagues us. Recently, designer drugs like methamphetamine and now Ecstasy are flooding this country. Along with heroin, these are marketed to our young people as safe and friendly. Left unanswered, we will see another generation of young lives blighted. We will see families torn up by a widening circle of hurt from drug use. We cannot afford to go through this again. I hope we can begin today to renew our commitment to a drug free future for our young people.

Our hearing today deals with an unhappy subject. We are going to look at the domestic effects of a new wave of heroin use. This is a flesh and blood problem that touches all of us. We will hear what is happening in our homes and schools across the nation. In rich neighborhoods and poor. In our cities and rural areas. In the lives of our young people and their families. The story of what is happening is going to be told in the voices of those most affected: from addicts and their families, from those who must deal with this problem up close and personally every day. At the end of our story, I hope that you will agree with me that we have a problem we must deal with, not by wringing our hands but by rolling up our sleeves.

No heroin consumed in this country is made here. Every gram of it is grown in some foreign field, processed in a distant, illegal lab, and smuggled into this country. It blossoms on mountainsides in Mexico, Colombia, Afghanistan, Burma, and Laos. Heroin walks, floats, flies, and sneaks across our borders. It comes in all disguises and many guises and all of it is bad.

While the heroin used here comes from overseas, the consequences of its coming are felt in our homes, in our schools, in our neighborhoods. It is our young people who die. It is American families who bear the burden and pay the price. Heroin is an equal opportunity destroyer. It blights inner city streets, suburban neighborhoods, and rural communities alike. I fear that the problem is getting worse. And I am concerned that our current policies are simply not up to the challenge.

Somewhere along the way, we lost the clear, consistent message that the only proper response to drugs is to say an emphatic "NO". We're supposed to be more sophisticated. More tolerant. More willing to listen to notions of making dangerous drugs more available. What all of this "more" has meant is that we have more young people using more drugs at younger ages. Today's heroin is cheaper and purer and more widely available. It is more aggressively marketed and it is presented as being safer, as "user friendly".

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, heroin had a bad rap. All drugs did. That is less true today. In the last several years, heroin use among young people has doubled and attitudes about the dangers of the drug have shifted. While it is true that most of our 12 to 20 year olds still believe it bad, the new heroin that we see on our streets and in our schools is marketed to avoid this stigma. The chief reason that the old heroin was seen as bad was because you needed a needle to use it. With the new heroin you can get high from smoking or inhaling, at least at first. And we now have well-moneyed think tank talking heads who preach that the only consequence of heroin addiction is a mild case of constipation. That it is our drug laws that are dangerous not the drugs. In such an environment, we should not be too surprised that an increasing number of young people should be persuaded that heroin is okay.

Communities in Plano, Texas and Orlando, Florida learned this to their dismay when dozens of high school kids died from heroin overdoses. I can think of no pain greater than that of a parent who must bid farewell forever to a child. It is somehow contrary to the natural order for a parent to precede a child in death. But the pain of addiction is a spreading circle of hurt. As you will hear this morning, other communities are equally affected and the hurt and the harm go beyond death.

Later today, I will offer legislation that I hope will help us address this problem. I am proposing that we look at the means to improve our prevention message to stop drug use before it starts. I hope to revitalize community and parent involvement. I propose increased resources for addiction research, and I am calling for a new initiative to support juvenile residential treatment programs that work.

It's not just a new heroin that plagues us. Recently, designer drugs like methamphetamine and now Ecstasy are flooding this country. Along with heroin, these are marketed to our young people as safe and friendly. Left unanswered, we will see another generation of young lives blighted. We will see families torn up by a widening circle of hurt from drug use. We cannot afford to go through this again. I hope we can begin today to renew our commitment to a drug free future for our young people.