Congress acknowledges US role in fueling worldwide drug violence

A bipartisan group of senior senators on Thursday took the rare step of openly acknowledging U.S. consumers' role in fueling an international drug trade that's responsible for thousands of deaths every year.

The conclusions are included in a new report from the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control on strategies to reduce the drug demand in this country. The caucus is chaired by Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinDems push for panel to probe Russian interference in election Overnight Energy: Senate Dems set to fight water bill White House could make 'torture' report public, says Intel Dem MORE (D-Calif.) and Charles GrassleyChuck GrassleyBusiness groups express support for Branstad nomination 10 no-brainer ways to cut healthcare costs without hurting quality Senate GOP: National museum should include Clarence Thomas MORE (R-Iowa).

The report marks a shift from the usual U.S. demands on countries where drugs are produced or through which they transit, a constant source of tensions with Latin American and other countries. It's also endorsed by caucus members Tom UdallTom UdallTom Udall eyes NM governor bid Court ruling could be game changer for Dems in Nevada Tensions rise over judicial nominees MORE (D-N.M.) and John CornynJohn CornynDem senator threatens to slow-walk spending bill Ark., Texas senators put cheese dip vs. queso to the test Texan tackles tricky tongue twister for #TheEllieChallenge MORE (R-Texas).

"While we believe that we must continue to improve and strengthen our supply-side counternarcotics policies,” the report states, “we also believe that the United States must do significantly more to reduce our country’s demand for illegal drugs. Ultimately, it is drug consumption in the United States that fuels violence throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.”

In a statement accompanying the report's release, Feinstein said that “only if we address the country’s appetite for illicit drug use can we prevent drug trafficking and the violence and loss of life it brings throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Added Grassley: “The dramatic escalation of violence in drug supplying countries might also give some potential U.S. drug users pause if they were informed of the consequences their use has on other nations.”

The report comes just weeks before Peru hosts an international meeting on combating drug trafficking. U.S. officials attending the meeting are expected to get an earful from the leaders of a number of Latin American countries – notably Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico – who have expressed growing interest in legalizing drug consumption to various extents after suffering disproportionately from the United States' hard line on the issue.

Last year, reports the Drug Policy Alliance, Mexican President Felipe Calderon signed a declaration stating that if demand in the United States and elsewhere could not be reduced, "authorities in the consuming countries ought then to explore possible alternatives to eliminate the exorbitant profits of the criminals, including regulatory or market oriented options to this end. Thus, the transit of substances that continue provoking high levels of crime and violence in Latin American and Caribbean nations will be avoided."

Recommendations in the senators' report include: 

• Funding innovative probation programs that reduce recidivism;

• Passing the Online Pharmacy Safety Act to help stop the illegal sale of prescription drugs on the Internet;

• Reorienting U.S. anti-drug media campaigns to demonstrate the correlation between violence in drug producing and transit countries and consumption in the United States;

• Blocking any efforts to merge substance abuse and mental health prevention programs by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; and

• Improving collection of data on U.S. drug use and treatment.