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Burden of Proof

U.S. War on Drugs: DEA Targets Ecstasy

Aired August 4, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET


ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: In colleges and in night clubs across the nation, it's a cheap high that's permeating American culture. Now, the drug enforcement officials are going after ecstasy and continuing their battles on the front line of the nation's war on drugs.


DONNIE MARSHALL, DEA ADMINISTRATOR: The level of problem has been growing, and it has become more and more popular, particularly with young people, over the last several years, and I think that the country and particularly parents of teenagers should be quite concerned about this.

DR. ALAN LESCHNER, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: We know that it causes a dramatic rise in body temperature, so one of the things that we're worried about is in clubs and hot settings, people's body temperature rises dramatically. They can go into convulsions.

CHARLES SIMONSEN, U.S. CUSTOMS SERVICE OFFICER: The maximum statutory penalty for importing ecstasy is 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.


ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Greta is off today.

Police are calling it the most disturbing drug threat in the United States. A recent bust in Los Angeles netted more than two million pills of ecstasy. Now the Drug Enforcement Administration is trying to halt distribution of the drug. So far this year, U.S. Customs agents have confiscated more than eight million pills coming over the border, most notably from Russia and Israel.

For many of those who use the drug, ecstasy is believed to be safe. But health officials are warning of the pill's side effects. Joining us here in Washington to discuss ecstasy and the war on drugs is Barry McCaffrey, director of the Office of the National Drug Control Policy. Here in our studio: Jenn Powell (ph), drug policy scholar Arnold Trebach, and criminal defense attorney Bernard Grimm. And in the back, Anson Adams (ph), David Creekman (ph) and Charles Palmer (ph).

Arnold, I want to go right to you. I want to talk to you about historically the usage of drugs in America. We now know that ecstasy seems to be the drug that is being focused on by the drug administration, and one that is believed to be presenting the most problems. Has there always been a drug problem in America?

ARNOLD TREBACH, DRUG POLICY SCHOLAR: There always has been a drug problem. There always will. This has gone on, you know, since the mind of man runneth not to the contrary.

Our great attention shortly after the Civil War turned to opium smoking; then to alcohol, remember the big campaigns against alcohol; heroin, cocaine, marijuana, crack, PCP and now ecstasy.

COSSACK: Arnold, I want to interrupt you a second, but I do want to come back to you because I want to focus a little later on in the show about the historical analysis of drugs and how it fits in to American culture.

But I want to -- joining us now, go to director of the war on drugs, Director McCaffrey, thank you for joining us.

Director, I want to talk to you, in particular, about ecstasy because that seems to be the drug that you are focusing more in on now. How dangerous is it.

BARRY MCCAFFREY, DIR., WHITE HOUSE DRUG POLICY: Well, we are concerned. The use of ecstasy has skyrocketed probably some 67 percent just last year alone among 12th graders. It is a dangerous drug because it is widely believed to be benign by many of those using it. They think, if you drink enough water, don't dry alcohol, don't drive, you are OK.

Dr. Alan Leschner, the knighted (ph) director, and others in science are now giving us persuasive evidence that the drug has probably near permanent damage to the neuro-chemical function of the brain, never mind the danger of dropping dead, or the longer term effects on heart function, kidney function, et cetera.

Now, in addition, we are hearing out of law enforcement the widespread potentially of sexual abuse of young women who are involved in these all-night raves. The problem, Roger, is a lot of parents takes their kids to an all-night rave, drop them off, hearing that there's no alcohol, that police will be present, and believing, therefore, their kids are in a safe environment. They are anything but. This is a dangerous drug, and we've got to get the message out.

COSSACK: Director McCaffrey, this is a drug that, up until recently, was legal, isn't that true?

MCCAFFREY: Well, of course, it had, like many of these substances, it has some medical indications originally. I mean, some of the drugs that are being used in rave scenes, like kedamean (ph), has a medical purpose. It is an anesthetic for veterinarians. But, at the end of the day, what we are now seeing ecstasy being used for is an inhibition reducing drug. It heats the body core temperature, kids have fun dancing all night. The problem is, they may drop dead because of it.

And as I talk to people, like Dr. David Smith out at the Haight Ashbury Clinic in San Francisco, they are seeing literally hundreds of cases a month now of either a psychotic reaction or a severe depression out of this drug.

COSSACK: Director McCaffrey, ecstasy is what, you know, we are focusing in on today, but the use of drugs in America has something that you've been connected with. Has the use of drugs been going up or going down? have you been effective or would this war on drugs that we talk about or not?

MCCAFFREY: Well, of course, a lot of us feel very uncomfortable with this metaphor of a war on drugs, Roger. At the end of the day, what we say, this is really a 10-year struggle for adolescent attitudes, and what we are trying to do is reduce drug-taking behavior, gateway drug-taking behavior among middle school children.

You know, basically, if you can get your kids from the sixth grade to the 12th grade, where you minimize drug taking behavior, you affect dramatically the number of compulsive drug using adults in your society. There is 270 million of us, most of us don't use drugs. Unfortunately, 5 millions of us, as Americans, are chronically addicted, and that drives the two million people behind bars, the hospital emergency rates, et cetera.

Now, there is good news here. You know, if you look back. the worst year of drug abuse in modern American society was in 1979; 14 percent of the country were past-month drug users. It is now down to 6 percent. Adolescent drug use rates, last year along, Secretary Donna Shalala and I announced a 13 percent reduction. We are moving in the right direction. Cocaine use is down by probably 75 percent.

The problem is, we still got 52,000 dead a year, and $110 billion in damage. We've got -- it is a prevention education message, that is the heart and soul of our national drug strategy.

COSSACK: Director McCaffrey, let me give you some statistics that go to, whether we are calling it a war on drugs, or a 10-years fight to take back out adolescents, drug offenders make up 60 percent of the federal prison population, 23 percent of the state population; minorities, one-third of all blacks between the ages of 18 and 34 are either in prison or on probation. We have two million people in prison in this country, the highest percentage of them are for drug offenses.

Are we emphasizing too much the notion of criminality in drugs? or should we be talking about treating these people in a different way, perhaps medically?

MCCAFFREY: Well, I think most of your stats are right on target and it's cause for societal concern, we cannot arrest our way out of the problem. Now, having said that, your viewers should not believe that majority of the people behind bars or even a significant percentage are there for simple possession of drugs because they are chronically addicted. They are behind bars because they are breaking into homes, doing male street prostitution, stealing from their employers, mugging people, but they also, as many as 85 percent of them, are compulsively using alcohol and illegal drugs.

COSSACK: But director -- director, I am sorry, I have to interrupt you because now we want to take you live to Chicago, where Vice President Al Gore is delivering his first campaign speech since the Republican National Convention. Mr. Gore is speaking to a group of postal workers and firefighters.

VICE PRES. AL GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, firefighters. Thank you, my friends. Al. Harold. Alexis Herman, our secretary of labor.


I want to thank you for the wonderful welcome you've extended to me and to Tipper and our daughter Sarah. It's great to be here. And, of course, I want to start by telling you how proud I am to share this stage with the woman I've loved with all my heart for 30 years, my wife, Tipper. I appreciate her introduction of me.


And I want to tell you how proud I am to be here with America's hard-working firefighters. We thank you for what you do every day.


Each and every day you brave ferocious flames and withering heat to protect our homes and save our lives. Americans know that, and they thank you.

Each and every day you walk through fire to keep families whole. And after the most miraculous rescues, you just turn around and do it all over again.

As a matter of fact, right now we are holding in our thoughts and prayers the many firefighters who are engaged in a pitched battle with the forest fires in the West, hoping for success and hoping for the best.

And I want you to know that my bond with America's firefighters is a deeply personal one. I know that the emotion that you expressed when we came into the room is real and strong and deep.

And I want you to know, I feel that way towards you.

Some of you know that my uncle was a firefighter, my mother's youngest brother. Many of you know that when our family home caught fire 14 years ago, you were there before I could hang up the telephone practically, it seemed like. Actually, an oil-burning furnace exploded in the basement while we were asleep and we didn't know it. And the family dog woke up Tipper and she woke up me, and we got all the children out. And I went to call the fire department and the phone lines had already melted. So I ran across the street to a neighbor's house and called the fire department, and literally within less than two minutes, they were there on the scene.

And I was standing outside the house watching the smoke come billowing out, and was billowing out the chimney, among other places, and then all of a sudden it stopped and started going back in. And I didn't know what that meant. It looked like a special effect in a horror movie, but the firefighters knew immediately what it meant. And they went into action just instantaneously, breaking out the windows to let the air in to prevent the explosion.

And they saved practically everything. And, of course, no one was lost or injured.

And I just want you to know that I will never, ever forget the courage and commitment that I saw on display there.

And then a few years after that, when one of our family members was involved in an accident, the paramedics were on the scene just, you know, almost instantly, again. And our family is one of millions and millions that have had the experience of being helped out, rescued, saved, by firefighters.

And I just want you to know that I understand the emotion that people all over this country feel towards you.

You don't question the odds. You don't size up the risks. When lives are on the line, you bear any burden, you brave any danger, to fight for us.

Well I'm running for president because I want to fight for you.


I want to fight for your families, for your future, for the communities your protect....


I want to fight for the people, not for the powerful.

And I know that we're starting out behind. I know it's going to be a tough fight, with powerful forces lined up against us.

But you deserve a president who will work just as hard as you do. You deserve a president who will take on the toughest odds and battle the big interests to give you the future that you deserve.

I'm here today to serve notice: This is day one of the fight for working families. And with your help, we're going to win this fight, we're going to win this election, and we're going to win the future for American families.


Join with me, and we'll win this fight.


Let's go the distance for working families.


On Tuesday -- on Tuesday, I'll be -- I appreciate that...


On Tuesday, I will be announcing my running mate in this election, but I can tell you something right now: This entire campaign I'll be running with firefighters, with the police, with working men and women all over this country.


I'll be running with the office workers and the construction workers, the factory workers. And I'll be running to bring new hope and a new vision for the future, not to restore the faded days and the rusted ways of the old guard.

Early next week, I'll start making my way to Los Angeles, the city where President John F. Kennedy was nominated, to accept your nomination for president of the United States, and I'll be talking about eight great years of prosperity and progress for America. I'll be talking about the new heights America can reach if we stay on the right track and make the right choices today.

I also want the American people to know me for who I am. I want you to know that Tipper and I have four wonderful children and that we became grandparents a year ago.

And I appreciate the shirt for my grandson, Wyatt. He was born on the Fourth of July, just a little over a year ago.

COSSACK: We have been listening to Vice President Gore, who has been speaking to union firefighters in Chicago, his first speech since the Republican convention.

Now we go back to Director McCaffrey.

Director McCaffrey, we were talking of course about drugs, and I had asked you about all these people in prison, and you had responded to me by saying that they not there for using drugs, they are there for doing other kinds of crimes. My question, I suppose, in follow-up to that, sir, is, if we would treat these people medically, wouldn't that then stop them because we would hopefully cure them from committing these other kinds of crimes that gets them in prison?

MCCAFFREY: I think you are entirely on target. Secretary Shalala, Attorney General Janet Reno and I pulled together 1100 people from around the country in March, a national assembly on the chronic drug abuse in our criminal justice system. It is not an either/or proposition, Roger. It seems to me, you have got to get people who are chronically addicted, there is five million of them, when they are arrested or when they end up in a health care system, or in a the welfare system, you have to offer them effective drug treatment, and hold them to it.

And that's exactly why we've got really a three-phrase strategy, we're building the drug court system. There were a dozen five years ago, now there are more than 750 on-line or coming on-line this year.

COSSACK: Director, we just have a short time left. Let me ask you this. Would it be your goal to reduce the number of drug offenders who are going to prison and to see them be treated civilly?

MCCAFFREY: Absolutely. And yet still have the coercive impact of the judge saying: You are you going to get drug tested three times a week, you are in treatment. We understand it is a chronic relapsing disorder. We might lock you up for three days, or 21 days, and put you back in treatment if you are not accountable for your actions. That's where we need to go. You are entirely on target.

COSSACK: All right, Director Barry McCaffrey, thank you for joining us today here in Washington.

Up next, the history of drug use in America, and why the problem is so prevalent in our society. Stay with us.


A federal appeals panel in San Francisco narrowed the power of police to search the homes of California criminals on probation.

The court's decision trumps a state Supreme Court decision last year allowing officers to search on a pretext without a warrant.



COSSACK: The drug ecstasy has become a popular high among American youth. Despite the efforts of the Drug Enforcement Administration and prosecutors around the country, drugs continue to traffic across America.

Arnold, we talked a little bit earlier on about the history of drug, and drug use in this country. Director McCaffrey says these drugs are bad and sometimes can even cause death. There's no debate about that, is there?

TREBACH: No, look, let's be clear. We don't want people to use drugs. We don't want kids to start experimenting with drugs. We all agree on that. But the next step we don't agree on, and I'm about to utter an obscenity on a family show.

COSSACK: Not too bad.

TREBACH: It is not bad. It is that we've got to accept the fact that people use drugs, even though we don't want to, and we may have to help them use them safely, that's an obscenity in American drug policy.

COSSACK: And you base that on sort of a historical analysis that's always been since time immemorial.

TREBACH: And it will be, all right. And there will be always new drugs. I just look at Europe, where now there is so-called "harm reduction" approaches using. Let me just give you two numbers: In England, I discovered that they had 1100 drug-related AIDS deaths up to March 30, 1998; in the U.S., the comparable number. drug-related AIDS death was 146,000. Now that's a stunning figure, and I think it is getting worse in the intervening years.

COSSACK: And why would there be less in England than there is here?

TREBACH: I think the difference is that, in England, they set -- entire United Kingdom, they say we are going to deal with the people using drugs in a humane fashion, we are going to try to convince them, first, not to use; but if they use, we want them to use safely.

COSSACK: What about what general -- Director McCaffrey points out, he said look, people are not in jail for using drugs, they are in jail for committing a crime while using drugs.

TREBACH: Some are, some are, thee are plenty in jail really for just using drugs. My point is, that we've got to adopt a policy that helps people who are using drugs, and help them do it safely. In England, I think the key ingredient was, needle exchange. The people over there told me that even when they prescribe drugs, like heroin or...

COSSACK: What should we do about ecstasy, where young people are using a drug that potentially could kill them? what do we do about that?

TREBACH: With ecstasy, I think again, we have got to tell them the truth, back the law enforcement people up. That's one big problem we have had for decades. We talk a balance policy, but it is dominated by the policeman and the jailer. You are right, we are filling the jails with people, some of whom are violent, most of whom are nonviolent drug offenders. We've got to change, it doesn't work.

COSSACK: Let me go to Bernie Grimm for a second. Bernie, you are a defense lawyer. Let's talk about another price that, perhaps, we are willing to pay as Americans for this war on drugs, and to combat drugs, which is our right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment. Fourth Amendment says, "No search warrant shall issue but upon probable cause."

Sounds great, what is probable cause today? how easy is it for a police officer to come to my home with a search warrant?

BERNARD GRIMM, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It sounds that it is like an insurmountable burden for the police to overcome, but when you really get down to it: If I live next door to you, and I don't like you, and I call the police and I say, Roger, I think is a drug dealer, there's people coming in and out of his house, maybe it is a cocktail party, but I think he's using drugs. If they come by, and they can corroborate some of that, that's probably enough.

COSSACK: They say people coming in and out of my house.

GRIMM: People coming in and out of your house late at night, or they see some unusual activity, whatever that might be, that's probably enough for a magistrate to be woken up by the police in the middle of the night, sign a warrant, and before you know it, your front door is getting smashed down, and you are getting arrested in your pajamas.

The price, there is two prices to be paid: drug dealers are going to pay a price, and people will say they should be a paying a price. What you don't hear about are innocent people that are paying a price, people going mistakenly to the wrong houses, probable cause not made out, and people being innocently arrested and abused.

The whole country saw when Elian Gonzalez was arrested and that was not for a crime in his home. When people are arrested for drug offenses, it is nothing like that. It's 10 times worse than that.

I have had a client where he was arrested for drug selling and he thought it was the invasion of Normandy coming into his house, and it wasn't for really a large amount of drugs. There's a price that is going to be paid for those who, perhaps, should deserve it; but there is a price that is going to be paid for innocent people as well.

The question you have to say is: Am I willing to sacrifice some of my privacy rights and some of my civil liberty rights in order to fight this war on drugs?

COSSACK: Bernie, when I practiced law, and we used to read the decisions of the courts, it seemed that most of the search warrant cases centered around drug cases, and that the appeals that were taken up that lawyers read about had to do with drug cases. Is drug cases that really are the main focus of these kinds of Fourth Amendment or search and seizure cases?

GRIMM: The cases I'm finding most with in my practice is about 90 percent drugs, guns, homicides. So all the alleged bad guys. It is drugs that are the basis for search warrants, but usually drugs and firearms because if you get firearms, you get ATF, and they love to bang down doors.

COSSACK: All right, I am afraid that is all the time we have for this somewhat abbreviated version of BURDEN OF PROOF. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Today on TALKBACK LIVE: A look at Governor George W. Bush's speech. Did he hit a home run with voters? Weigh-in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific.

And we'll be back Monday with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



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