WASHINGTON, March 21 - Nearly three quarters of Americans say the United
States is losing its war on drugs and that the appetite for drugs is so
great the problem will never disappear, a poll by the Pew Research Center
showed on Wednesday.

"The real lesson here ... is we have to give a lot more attention and
connect with the public about what's possible. You can't wave a magic wand
and make it go away," said Maureen Steinbruner, president of the Center for
National Policy that publicized the report.

The Washington-based Pew researchers polled 1,500 people in February and
found 74 percent consider the U.S. campaign against drugs a failure. The
poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

The poll also found that 68 percent of those questioned thought Latin
America would never crack down on the problem in spite of U.S.
drugs-related aid packages totaling some $700 million a year.

More than 40 percent of interviewees thought the Bush administration should
reduce the amount of U.S. money given to Colombia and other countries
fighting drug producers.

Attorney General John Ashcroft made renewing the war on drugs one of his
three top priorities when he took office in February.

Drugs Hit One-In-Five Families

With one-in-five Americans admitting that their family had been rocked by
drug use, the poll found the public inclined to favor more compassionate
treatment of drug offenders.

More than half said drug use should be treated as a disease instead of a crime.

Although still in favor of maintaining traditional tough approaches such as
drug bans and jail terms, the public is more skeptical of them, the poll
showed.

Steinbruner of the Center for National Policy agreed in a telephone
interview that there was a role for interdiction and imprisonment but that
other approaches had to be examined.

"We started down this path 25 years ago and it's time for a new look," she
said.

Steinbruner said the government should consider establishing compulsory
treatment programs for victims of drug abuse as an alternative to
incarceration.

"There's evidence building that the forced treatment package is showing
some reasonable results," she said.

The Pew Research Center is an independent opinion research group that
studies attitudes toward public policy issues.


Newshawk: Max1204
Pubdate: Wed, 21 Mar 2001
Source: Reuters News Service
Copyright: 2001 Reuters Limited
Author: Claire Soares, Reuters News Service Writer