OUCH!: Addicted to Cash


More than three-and-a-half million Americans are in desperate need of treatment for substance abuse. According to a Rand Corporation study, every dollar spent on drug treatment is 23 times more effective in reducing cocaine consumption than efforts to eradicate the supply. Put another way, if we want to achieve a one percent reduction in cocaine use in the U.S., we can spend an additional $34 million on proven treatment programs or an additional $783 million on trying to control cocaine production at its source.Given those facts, why did the House Appropriations committee just vote for $1.7 billion in military and economic aid to Columbia and three other countries for the war on drugs in South America, adding $500 million to President Clinton's original proposal, while rejecting an amendment proposed by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to add $1.3 billion in funding for community drug treatment and prevention programs aimed at young people here?Answer: Drug addicts don't have political action committees; nor do the community health practitioners who struggle to address their needs. But the energy companies with operations in Columbia, and the arms makers whose products will be bought by the Columbian military with this new American aid, do -- and they play the Washington money game like consummate pros, as reported this week by Arianna Huffington in her nationally syndicated column.Five companies are in the forefront of lobbying for the Columbia aid package -- Occidental Petroleum, BP Amoco, Enron, United Technologies and Bell Helicopter Textron. Since 1997, they have given over $3.4 million in PAC and soft money contributions alone to federal candidates and parties, two-thirds to Republicans.After the Appropriations vote, committee chair Bill Young (R-FL) said, "I'm proud that my committee members resisted a number of very expensive proposals in full committee mark up. Thanks to their tough votes, we saved taxpayers nearly $2 billion."What he didn't say is that $400 million of the money his committee did appropriate will enable the Columbians to buy 63 helicopters made by United Technologies's Sikorsky Aircraft and Bell Helicopter Textron. These two companies alone have given almost $1.3 million in PAC contributions and soft money since 1997 (including $7,000 to Rep. Young from their PACs).By comparison, the same $400 million could have provided treatment for almost 200,000 addicts, or prevention services for over 4 million people.

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