May 17, 2008

Former drug czar visits WNC drug treatment programs

Ben Smith

Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey doesn’t joke when he talks about drugs.
The former Army four-star general and former director of drug enforcement policy under President Clinton saw the effects of substance abuse as an officer during the Vietnam era, when addiction problems plagued the armed forces.

“People get uncomfortable talking about drugs, and one way they’ll push back is with humor” McCaffrey, 65, said. “Marijuana use provokes happy laughter, but a lot of guys my age don’t think drugs are funny at all because we saw what it did to the armed forces.”
McCaffrey visited Western North Carolina on Thursday and Friday to tour adolescent and young-adult behavior and drug treatment programs.
He serves on the board of directors of CRC Health Group, owner of three WNC facilities and the nation’s largest drug, alcohol and behavioral treatment provider.
What McCaffrey saw impressed him. The New Leaf Academy in Hendersonville helps girls 10-14 with behavioral and learning problems. Two of the 13 girls getting treatment at New Leaf gave McCaffrey a campus tour.
“It’s a very loving, family environment,” McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey also toured the School of Urban Wilderness Survival in Old Fort and the Four Circles Recovery Program in Horse Shoe. Both programs treat teenagers and young adults who suffer from drug addiction and other problems.
Concerns over drug abuse led him to service as director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 1996 to 2001.
McCaffrey graduated from West Point in 1964 and served in Vietnam and the first Gulf War. He became commander in chief of the U.S. Armed Forces Southern Command in Latin America in 1994.
There he oversaw U.S. efforts to curb the international drug trade in places like Colombia and Bolivia while stationed in Panama.
McCaffrey’s tough-on-drugs policy caught the eye of the Clinton administration, which offered the general the job to lead the nation’s drug policy before the former president’s campaign for a second term.
“It wasn’t a job I wanted or volunteered for, but when (Clinton) started to talk to me about it, I told him I know a lot about prevention, education and treatment,” McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey said hands-on treatment for addiction is the best fix for America’s drug problem.
“You need international help for a bunch of reasons — you don’t want foreign nations ending up as (narcotic) states,” McCaffrey said. “But I tell people there is no such thing as a national drug problem. There are community drug epidemics.”
McCaffrey now works as a media analyst for NBC and MSNBC and serves as an adjunct professor of international affairs at West Point.