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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT
Special Edition: The War Within
Aired March 28, 2007 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening tonight from George Washington University.
Tonight, we will examining -- or examine what is a growing crisis in this country. We call it "The War Within," this nation's battle with drug and alcohol addiction.
In 1971,President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs. Well, victory in this war has proved to be elusive, at best. The United States makes up just 4 percent of the world's population, but consumes two-thirds of the world's illegal drugs. That is not only an overwhelming statistic, but many Americans are being overwhelmed with drug and alcohol addiction. This is a national crisis.
Tonight, we will be examining the issues. We will find out what is causing the crisis. We will also hear some solutions to "The War Within."
ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: "The War Within."
From George Washington University, Lou Dobbs.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
DOBBS: Thank you very much.
Good evening, everybody. We are here at George Washington University to report on our national crisis of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, what we call "The War Within."
Just how bad is this crisis? Why are so many of us caught up in the cycle of addiction and abuse?
We begin with a report tonight from Christine Romans examining the scope of America's addictions.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Almost 25 million people in this country are substance abusers. Yet, only three million get treatment.
Joseph Califano runs the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.
JOSEPH CALIFANO, CHAIRMAN AND PRESIDENT, NATIONAL CENTER ON ADDICTION AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE: We Americans are 4 percent of the world's population. We consume two-thirds of the world's illegal drugs. Drug abuse in this country, and substance abuse in this country, is unquestionably our biggest health problem. Addiction and substance abuse are our number-one disease.
ROMANS: The top drug of choice, 25.5 million people aged 12 and older used marijuana in the past year -- the fastest growing category, prescription drugs. Last year 6.4 million used them to get high -- abuse of alcohol, even more widespread. Some 40 percent of college students engage in dangerous binge-drinking.
Drug offenses are the fastest-growing category of crime. Drug offenders are the largest group of inmates in federal prisons. It costs $3 billion a year to house them.
That's at the federal level. States pay $17 million a day to incarcerate drug criminals. But that's a fraction of the billions spent over the past 30 years on the government's war on drugs.
And then there are human costs. Almost 20,000 people died from accidental drug overdoses in 2004, second only to fatal car crashes. And, on our roads each year, an estimated two million drive under the influence, drunk drivers killing 17,000.
(on camera): The government's clinical data show marginal declines in drug and alcohol use by teens over the past few years. But pot and alcohol remain the drugs of choice. Club drugs, like ecstasy, are still popular with teenagers. And prescription drug abuse is exploding.
Christine Romans, CNN, New York.
DOBBS: Joining me now, Dr. Nora Volkow. She's director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse -- Joseph Califano, chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York. And Terry Cline, he's the administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Thank you all for being here.
Let me start, if I may, Joe, by -- your center found that nearly half of the college students in this country are binge-drinking and abusing, and both prescription drugs and illegal drugs. How have we reached this stage in this country?
CALIFANO: Well, I think we -- I think we have tended to treat it as a sort of rite of passage, that kids can -- at college, they're going to get drunk. They're going to get drunk on the weekends. So, that's just a rite of passage.
The troublesome thing is the -- there's been an increase in the intensity of drinking by college students. I mean, a quarter -- almost a quarter of our college students meet the clinical criteria, the clinical medical criteria for alcohol or drug abuse addiction. And, you know, this is wasting -- we -- you know, this is wasting the best and the brightest in this country and playing Russian roulette with them. I think the colleges have got to really -- the atmosphere has got to be changed on college campuses. And our kids have got to come to realize that this is one of the things -- the one thing they can do that can destroy their careers and sometimes destroy their lives, Lou.
I mean, you know, almost 2,000 people die on college campuses a year because of alcohol and drug-related accidents and alcohol poisoning.
DOBBS: Dr. Volkow, I -- before I turn to you, I want to just say, I want to compliment you, all of your collaborators at HBO, on what has proved to be an amazing documentary and public service, "Addictions." It has -- I don't know how many of you in the -- how many of you here have seen or read any of the materials from "Addictions," just out of curiosity?
DOBBS: I would just like to begin by saying that every -- in my opinion, every public school, every family, every workplace should avail themselves of what you have done. And our compliments and our thanks.
As Joe said, nearly -- nearly a third of all college students are qualifying for clinical abuse and dependence.
What is happening on our college campuses, that this would occur?
DR. NORA VOLKOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE: Well, we have known that the age of greater risk for abuse and addiction is between 18 and 24 years of age. And that's exactly the age at which kids are in college.
And you see also the period of your life when you are in a transition from being a student to starting to take responsibility and going away from home. And so that -- those transition periods are periods that we have recognized to be important in vulnerability for taking drugs.
You have the peer pressures. And that's one of the things that is that is -- Joe was mentioning the belief that this is normal behavior, the sense that your friends are doing it, and, in order to be part of them, you are actually, in many ways, pressured to drink alcohol, where, otherwise, you wouldn't do, or take drugs.
DOBBS: Terry, the -- the war on drugs, why are we engaged in it? And, in your judgment, is the country prepared to take on this problem in the proportion -- proportionate response to what is, everyone agrees, a national crisis?
TERRY CLINE, ADMINISTRATOR, SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES ADMINISTRATION: Well, I think we're engaged in this war because we must be engaged in this war. As Joe said earlier, I think this is the largest public health crisis facing America today. I think that we have seen incredible damage, lost productivity, tragedy, in terms of family dysfunction, tearing families apart, people who end up being incarcerated, people losing jobs, losing families, losing everything that they have, because of their struggles with addiction, incredible human tragedy, in terms of cost, and economic cost to our country.
I think it's an area that deserves all of our attention.
DOBBS: We're going to have much more with our panel ahead.
Also coming up, we will have an exclusive report on efforts to stop the entry of illegal drugs into this country -- law enforcement, short on resources, battling drug-smugglers and drug cartels with abundant resources.
And we will examine the dangers of binge-drinking in our public schools and our colleges all over the nation. What is the cause? What is the cure? What is the public policy response appropriate to this crisis?
Stay with us for what we think is a very important hour for all of us, "The War Within," as we continue tonight from George Washington University.
DOBBS: Welcome back to this prime-time special report on CNN, "The War Within."
Tonight, we're at George Washington University. We're examining this national crisis of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction.
And with us tonight, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Joseph Califano, the chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, Terry Cline, who is the administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Joe, let's return to the issue of the explosion in drug and alcohol abuse on our campuses, binge-drinking.
CALIFANO: And the consequences, which people have to start to realize. I mean, annually, annually, 700,000 students are injured, assaulted by students who are binge-drinking.
Think about that. One hundred thousand women on college campuses are raped or sexually assaulted a year by people who are high on alcohol. I mean, think about that. That's about six a day, Lou. I mean, this -- these kids are hurting themselves in a very serious way.
And you look at their future -- I mean, Nora can talk more about the brain, but what -- what is happening to their academic performance, the depression, you know, all of those ailments.
DOBBS: The -- the role of parents, the role of universities?
CALIFANO: The role of parents, look, there's plenty for -- parents are responsible for plenty.
Remember, three-fourths of the kids that drink in college and that use drugs in college were drinking and using drugs before they went to college, either in high school or junior high school.
CALIFANO: That is mom and dad. I mean, this is a mom-and-pop operation in the first instance. Parents are where it's at. They're the first line of defense.
Nora, what do we know today about addiction, about substance abuse? You talked about the age group, 18 to 25. What do we know today about addiction?
VOLKOW: Oh, we know -- we know a lot.
Actually, it has been -- with technologies, we can now look inside the human brain, and actually start to understand how changes change the function and biochemistry of our brains. And we have, for example, been able to identify that repeated drug use actually produces changes in your brain that are long-lasting, that result in significant modifications in your behavior.
We have also learned that there are certain periods in your life that you're much more vulnerable for those changes to occur. For example, adolescence is a particularly risky period. Your brain is very, very plastic. So, if you subject them to the use of drugs, the changes that are produced by these drugs occur more rapidly, and, in turn, also are more longer-lasting, which is basically what we have learned.
The earlier you start taking drugs, the greater the risk that you will become addicted.
DOBBS: Compounding the crisis, the most vulnerable segment of our population also suffers the most devastating consequences.
VOLKOW: Unfortunately, yes, because, also, when it is the vulnerable population, adolescents, and unfortunately sometimes children, those are the ones that are actually at the period in their life that they have to deal who they are, and they have to be able to learn and go out.
So, you damage the brain, which is your main -- the main source that you have in order to progress.
DOBBS: Which is you.
VOLKOW: It's who you are, exactly. So, this is what drugs are doing. And they're also, at that time, much more likely to become addicted. So, that's where the -- the important message of all of this is highlighting why we need to do prevention of drug use starting as early as childhood.
DOBBS: Terry Cline, treatment, the science is advancing. Consciousness, hopefully, in this country is rising.
How optimistic are you? How committed is this government to improving treatment and to dealing with addiction?
CLINE: I'm very excited about the opportunities that we have available. But that does not mean that we should rest on our laurels.
We have seen some significant changes, but we have incredible challenges facing us right now. As we have heard from our other two panelists, we need to get ahead of the curve. And part of that curve is meeting that need when people are first beginning to experiment with drugs or with alcohol.
We know that a young person who starts drinking before the age of 15 is five times more likely to have serious problems with alcohol later in life -- five times.
DOBBS: Terry -- Terry, thank you.
Joe, these three folks will be joining us here, rejoining us, later in this broadcast.
We thank you very much.
And coming up next: an exclusive report on the fight to keep drugs from reaching this country, Our neighborhoods, our communities -- how law enforcement is taking on the drug cartels, drug smugglers, while fighting, at the same time, a severe lack of resources.
Also ahead: the epidemic of underage drinking. Our young people spending their days wasted, wasting their minds and this country's future. We will examine why they're doing it. We will take a look at some of the solutions being offered.
And later here, powerful, personal stories of addiction and recovery -- we will introduce you to three young people who have ended the cycle of abuse for themselves. They're clean. They're sober, and they're successful.
Our prime-time special, "The War Within," continues right after this.
DOBBS: Welcome back.
We have reported on how we're fighting the war on drugs for more than three decades. But drugs today are cheaper. They're far more powerful and far more available than ever before, thanks to a booming drug trade that targets Americans. Illegal drugs in this country are truly weapons of mass destruction.
Kelli Arena reports now on the government's efforts to stop the flow of drugs into this country.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These Coast Guard pilots are chasing drug-runners on the Saint Johns River in Florida -- the goal, shoot out the boat's engines and stop the drugs from reaching shore.
It's actually a practice run for the team being deployed to the Caribbean next week. CNN was along for the ride. And a wild ride, it was.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The aircraft is working well. The boat is working well. We have all been well-rested. So, we have determined that to be a low-risk scenario.
ARENA: Before the helicopters, the drug traffickers had an advantage.
CAPTAIN EDWARD GREINER, U.S. COAST GUARD: We couldn't catch them. And, with our surface vessels, we could follow them with fixed- wing aircraft, but we just couldn't get them to stop.
ARENA: Now they stop them, lots of them.
(on camera): These Stingray helicopters are the nation's best defense against so-called fast boats used by drug-runners. The past six years alone, they have helped take out more than 100 of those fast boats, carrying nearly 150 tons of cocaine.
(voice-over): Despite its success, the unit has only eight helicopters. And, sometimes, instead of going after drugs, they're sent on anti-terror missions.
GREINER: What we have is effective. And, so, it would be -- all of the things being equal, it would certainly be nice to have more of what's effective.
ARENA: That lack of resources plagues the entire interdiction effort, led by the Department of Defense. It's creating what some experts say is a crisis.
ROBERT CHARLES, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INTERNATIONAL NARCOTICS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT AFFAIRS: We're going to see an uptick in drug-related crime. We're going to see an uptick in drug-related accidents. We're going to see an uptick in overdoses. And we're also going to see increased vulnerability where there is a drug-terror link.
ARENA: A stinging congressional report finds a cutback in air surveillance over the Caribbean and Pacific, the most important transit zones, by more than 62 percent, a serious reduction in radar capability, leaving the U.S. -- quote -- "relatively blind," and only four ships patrolling the entire Eastern Pacific, an area larger than the continental United States.
The Pentagon doesn't dispute these findings, but says resources are stretched thin from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
RICH DOUGLAS, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Yes, there is pressure on assets. Yes, there is pressure on people. It's just a -- it's -- it's a fact of life. I mean, we're -- we're engaged in two very important conflicts at this moment.
ARENA: But the war here at home is claiming far more American lives. In 2004, more than 30,000 Americans died from drug abuse. Keeping drugs out of the country is one of the surest ways to stop that.
Kelli Arena, CNN, Jacksonville, Florida.
DOBBS: And the DEA says nearly all of the cocaine that enters the United States comes through Mexico, our southern border.
In point of fact, Mexico is the principal source of methamphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin used in this country.
We would like to hear your views on this very important issue. Our poll question tonight is: Do you believe the United States is committed to winning the war on drugs, yes or no? Vote at LouDobbs.com. We will have those results here at the end of the broadcast.
Coming right up: children in grade school taking their first drink. We will examine why so many of our young people become trapped in the cycle of addiction, and how a remarkable high school is helping its students resist the lure of drugs and alcohol, "Sober High."
Stay with us, as our special report, "The War Within," continues.
DOBBS: Welcome back.
We're here at George Washington University.
And, tonight, in our special report, "The War Within," we focus on the crisis of drug and alcohol addiction in this country.
The epidemic of underage drinking has the attentions of the nation's top doctor. The surgeon general says underage drinking is too often seen as a rite of passage, as we have heard.
As Christine Romans now reports, the surgeon general says it's time to change now. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ROMANS (voice-over): The surgeon general cataloged a list of dangerous consequences of underage drinking.
DR. KENNETH MORITSUGU, ACTING U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Academic failure, risky sexual behavior, injuries, and even death.
ROMANS: Each year, some 5,000 deaths are linked to underage drinking.
MORITSUGU: Think of that, entire college campuses wiped clean of the entire student body every year.
ROMANS: His exhaustive report on the problem finds -- quote -- "Underage drinking is deeply embedded in the American culture, is often viewed as a rite of passage, is frequently facilitated by adults, and has proved stubbornly resistant to change."
He says it is simply unacceptable that 20 percent of 14-year-olds say they have been drunk at least once.
MORITSUGU: This needs to stop.
ROMANS: He faults society. Too often, parents are inclined to believe "not my child." "Pediatric health care providers underestimate alcohol use and abuse among their patients." Colleges and universities need to take a good, hard look at whether they "encourage, support important, or facilitate underage alcohol use," as for the industry, make certain that billions of dollars spent on industry advertising and responsibility campaigns does not portray alcohol "as an essential element in achieving popularity, social success, or a fulfilling life."
MICHELE RIDGE, LEADERSHIP TO KEEP CHILDREN ALCOHOL FREE FOUNDATION: For too long, underage drinking has been fueled by denial, inaction, and acceptance. That changes today.
ROMANS: Law enforcement needs to publicize and enforce, and anti-underage drinking laws.
(on camera): That first drink almost never happens in a bar. Only 7 percent of underage drinking occurs where alcohol is legally sold. It's happening at home. That's why the surgeon general is calling for a national attitude adjustment to tackle underage drinking.
Christine Romans, CNN, New York.
DOBBS: And joining us now, Tracy Downs. She's coordinator of the drug and alcohol prevention program at the University of Delaware.
Tracy, good to have you here.
And Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, he's president of George Washington University.
And thank you for being here. And thanks for letting us be here.
STEPHEN JOEL TRACHTENBERG, PRESIDENT, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: The pleasure is mine. Thank you.
DOBBS: The University of Delaware had a tremendous problem with alcohol and drug abuse. You have also done some amazing things to change it.
What do you think has been the most critical step you have taken to protect the lives and the health of your students?
TRACY DOWNS, UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE: I think what we did was attack it head on by forming a campus community coalition to address the problem.
You can't just educate students to make healthy choices in a toxic environment. So, what we did was, we brought key stakeholders from the campus and the community. We changed policies.
DOBBS: What's a stakeholder on a campus, for those of us who wouldn't know?
DOWNS: A stakeholder is a person who deals with students on a regular basis, is important in helping to change policy.
DOWNS: Right, faculty, residence life staff, judicial affairs, the campus police, but, most importantly, the president.
We have had strong leadership from our president, Dr. David Roselle, from the beginning. And I think that's key to beginning to make changes on campus.
DOBBS: Well, we have got a college president here. So, let's turn to -- to him.
Steve, you have seen a -- I shouldn't say "have seen." That sounds a little passive. You have managed to decrease the amount of drinking and drug abuse on your campus over the last few years, while, nationwide, over the past decade, we have seen an increase.
What have you done?
TRACHTENBERG: We have taken it very seriously. And I couldn't agree more. I think -- I think the president's office has got to lead. And, in my remarks to the freshman class each year, I start off by talking about drinking on campus and how seriously we take it and try to put students on notice that they need to protect each other. And they need to look after each other.
And it's not a secret pact. And that the faculty and the student body have to work together along with the administration and the parents and the community to address this problem.
DOBBS: You both are enjoying success in the war on drugs, "The War Within" on your campuses, but nationwide, it is a losing battle. It is the role of the parents, of course. Their influence is critical. Many of these students are coming to you already addicted to alcohol or drugs.
Do you believe that there -- the change has to happen sooner? You have your own role. Obviously in the lives of these stupidities. But as I hear so many professors and college presidents say in this country, the students that are reaching them today are not adequately prepared academically. Are we not providing preparation for our high school, junior high school students, life preparation in our public schools?
TRACHTENBERG: Society puts a lot of stress on youngsters and some of them escape through drugs and alcohol and then later on in life when they come to the university, they bring -- they bring those habits with them.
I think at every level, elementary, secondary school, university, we have to demonstrate that we're serious and we have to work at it. We provide, for example, at G.W., alternative events which are non- alcohol-related so that students for outlets that are not involving beverages, spirited beverages.
DOBBS: I can hear Tracy an 18-year-old freshman at any campus in the country saying, listen to those -- those, you know, silly adults. They're talking about drugs and booze. They probably think, A, we're all three hypocrites. B, we're out of touch with their reality. C, there's really no harm. And what the heck do they know about my life anyway?
How do you get through to a young person with exactly those views? My guess is we've all three encountered those views at one time or another.
DOWNS: We take pretty much a harm reduction approach. Because with college age students you almost have to. You can't just be, you know, tell them to abstain even though -- I mean, that's a great message, but you need to give them tips if they are going to drink. How they can ...
DOWNS: Exactly. Punishment. We have a three strikes and you're out policy. We notify their parents when they violate the alcohol policy. Our recidivism rates our down and I think enforcing a strict policy is ...
TRACHTENBERG: It's a combination of reward and punishment. You have to be serious if you catch somebody violating the rules in the residence halls or whatever. You have to put them out. They have to be examples.
On the other hand, you have to have alternative outlets for people and recognize that they're 17, 18, 19 years old and there's certain ...
DOBBS: And treatment.
TRACHTENBERG: And treatment of course. Working with the university health services. But I think -- a lot of it is education. They come to us for an education and we are to deliver on what we're promising.
DOBBS: Amen, brother.
President Trachtenberg, thanks for being with us.
TRACHTENBERG: Thank you.
And thanks to you for hosting this broadcast throughout the week. Tracy Downs, will be back with us here later. Thank you both.
DOWNS: Thank you.
DOBBS: Tonight, we're exploring the crisis of binge drinking on college campuses. But for many young people, alcohol and drug abuse begins much earlier. Much earlier often than high school.
One high school is trying to change all of that. Helping its students who are recovering from addiction to stay sober and drug free. Lisa Sylvester has the story.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This may look like every other high school in America. But every student has reached a rock bottom.
TRACEY OFFICER, SOBRIETY HIGH STUDENT: I was big into cocaine and marijuana and drinking.
GABRIEL BLISS, SOBRIETY HIGH STUDENT: I got sucked into the drug world by marijuana mostly, but I got hooked on acid when I was 15 and used that for about four years.
CAROLINE BURKE, SOBRIETY HIGH STUDENT: You know, the only things I'd think about was getting high, getting drunk, sneaking out, you know, I was trying not to get caught.
SYLVESTER: Sobriety High in Minnesota is a public charter school for teenagers who are recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. LARRY SCHMIDT, LEAD TEACHER: What we have is positive peer pressure. There is strong pressure to stay clean, to not use, to get the help you need if you have a slip.
SYLVESTER: The classes are smaller than you'll find other schools. Fewer than 60 students make up the entire student body.
Noah Hempstead has been at the school a year. Before he arrived here, he used cocaine, ecstasy, alcohol and marijuana.
NOAH HEMPSTEAD, SOBRIETY HIGH STUDENT: Every part of my day involved using or thinking about using or how I was going to get high.
SYLVESTER: At Noah's old school, drugs were so prevalent, the hallways were illegal pharmacies.
HEMPSTEAD: It's unbelievable. You can get drugs so much easier than you get alcohol. I mean, people say it all the time, but it's 100 percent true.
SYLVESTER: The students in addition to taking classes work the 12 steps and have peer counseling sessions where everything is on the table.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See, this is our problem. We get so rapped up in everybody else's bull that we can't take care of ourselves.
SYLVESTER: Students learn to redefine what fun is through outlets like music. Studies show 90 percent of teenagers who leave a treatment program but return to their old high school end up using again. At Sobriety High, 80 percent of the students never have a relapse.
BLISS: We're working at learning how to live life, and that's what this school is here to teach us. It's here to help.
SYLVESTER: The students don't all get it right the first time. But they live their mantra, progress, not perfection.
Lisa Sylvester, CNN.
DOBBS: A good motto for life. Coming up here next, overcoming addition. We'll be joined by three young men who will share their stories with us and I assure you, they're wonderful and inspiring stories.
Also ahead, doctors in fact and hospitals may be underreporting the role that drugs and alcohol are playing in automobile and other accidents in this country. As bad as it is, addiction may be worse than what we think.
And our panel of experts will join us to offer some solutions to this crisis, this "War Within." Stay with us. We'll be right back.
DOBBS: Well, finding the true cost of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction in this society is difficult at best. It is overwhelming.
But it is difficult to measure with any kind of precision. In part because some doctors and hospitals are underreporting the number of emergency room cases that are drug or alcohol-related.
Joining me now with more on the true scope of the crisis of addiction in this nation is Congressman Jim Ramstad. He is the cosponsor of the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act which would require insurance companies to offer benefits to treat addiction as well as other diseases.
This Minnesota Republican is also co-chair of the Addiction Treatment and Recovery Caucus. Congressman, it's good to have you here.
REP. JIM RAMSTAD, (R) MN: Good to be with you, Lou.
DOBBS: You are a recovering addict. You've very publicly supported Congressman Patrick Kennedy in his travails.
Tell us about your personal focus and direction on this critically important issue.
RAMSTAD: Well, I woke up, Lou, in a jail cell in Sioux Falls on July 31st, 1981 after my last alcoholic black out. Under arrest for a variety of offenses stemming from that alcoholic episode.
And I'm alive and sober today only because of the access I had to treatment along with the grace of God and the support of other recovering people over the last 25 and a half years.
And so with me, this is not just another public policy issues. It's a matter of life or death. Because I've seen too many alcoholics and addicts die from this disease. We're not doing enough to treat, to provide the same kind of access that Patrick and I had to treatment. Last year, in fact, according to SAMSA over -- actually, over 280,000 people were denied access to treatment. Had the doors to the treatment center slammed shut in their faces.
RAMSTAD: Well, a variety of reasons.
First of all, of the 26 million addicts and alcoholics in the United States, including 3 million young people under 21, only 17 percent, by the way, of the young people are -- have access to treatment.
But of the bigger number, the 26 million, about 8 million are on health plans that allowed to discriminate. About 90 percent of health plans are allowed to erect discriminatory barriers to treatment that don't exist for treatment for physical diseases. Artificially high co-payments, artificially high deductibles, limited treatment stays. The average treatment stay allowed by 90 percent of the health plans is seven days. Ask any chemical health professional and they'll tell you nobody, nobody can get on the road to recovery in seven days.
DOBBS: Anyone who knows an addict or has had one in their family has had that personal experience. Can appreciate the inequity of looking out across society and seeing the number of people that are denied treatment because insurance companies, the medical profession itself has not looked upon this as a disease.
It has been considered a stigma rather than a disease. Our reaction as a society, as a government, as a people ...
RAMSTAD: Even though the American Medical Association categorized it as a disease since 1956, well before the war on drugs was declared.
DOBBS: Is it your sense you're going to be able to get your law through?
RAMSTAD: We're very confident. We had our first hearing ...
DOBBS: I better call it a bill rather than a law. That was hopeful on my part.
RAMSTAD: We appreciate the optimism. But we're very hopeful that we can get this parity legislation passed this year. We had our first hearing just yesterday. It went very well. And Patrick Kennedy and I have been holding field hearings with other members around the country. We've had 12 field hearings. And momentum is building for this. Why should addicts be discriminated in treatment vis-a-vis people with appendicitis or heart disease or any other physical ailment? It shouldn't be allowed in this country.
DOBBS: Congressman Ramstad, we thank you for being here.
RAMSTAD: Thank you, Lou. Thanks a lot.
DOBBS: A reminder to vote on our poll tonight. The question is, do you believe the United States is committed to winning the war on drugs? Yes or no. Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We're going to bring you those results here in just a few moments. Up next, we'll hear very personal stories of addiction and recovery, powerful illustrations of the hold of addiction. The will to survive, and to succeed, I'm pleased to say. We'll have three very special guests and we'll hear more from our panel of experts next. Stay with us.
DOBBS: Welcome back. We're joined now by three remarkable young people, all of whom who have struggled with drug and alcohol addiction and they're in recovery. They're all members of Alcoholics Anonymous, and as such, we will only use their first names and last initial. I'd like to introduce you to John S. John, we're glad to have you with us. Josh R. Good to have you with us. And John U. I'm going to try to keep the Us and the Ss combined here.
It's good to have you here. Let me ask you, John, how long have you been clean? How long have you been sober?
JOHN S., IN ALCHOLICS ANONYMOUS: Coming up on two years on May 12, 2005.
DOBBS: What was your addiction?
JOHN S.: A little bit of everything. You name it, I've pretty much did it. Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, pain killers, muscle relaxers, pretty much everything.
DOBBS: What started you using?
JOHN S.: Started out smoking weed when I was about 14, 15, somewhere around there. Just actually sought it out myself in school, went and got high and everything just progressed on from there.
DOBBS: And you were how old?
JOHN S.: Fourteen, 15. Somewhere in that area.
DOBBS: Josh, how about you?
JOSH. R., IN ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS: I've been sober May 26, 2005 is my sobriety date. So I'm like John, I'm coming up on two years.
I was everything, too. I started when I was 15. Alcohol and marijuana and then I progressed and got into cocaine and acid and methamphetamines. But I would say that I that have a problem with cocaine. So I'm going to stop snorting coke and I would continue to drink alcohol. And every time it would take me back out.
JOHN U., IN ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS: My sobriety date is November 15, 1999. And, I mean I started using when I was nine.
JOHN U.: Yeah. I mean, I was just ...
DOBBS: What were you using?
JOHN U.: Well, I was -- I started drinking alcohol was the first thing I had. A buddy stole some Jim Beam from his parents' liquor cabinet and I drank about that much of the bottle and, I mean, you know I was only nine. I think I weighed like 60 pounds or something like that at the time. So I got pretty hammered.
But, you know, that's just how it went. And, I mean, my drug of choice was more. It was whatever you had and more. I mean, there was no limit. I didn't care what it was. It could have been coke, it could have been weed, it could have been alcohol, I mean, I primarily drank because it was the easiest thing for me to get. I mean, you can always go down to the 7/11 and ask somebody to buy you the beer.
DOBBS: You all started very young. John U. the youngest amongst the three of you.
Were you parents oblivious to what was happening? Was anyone paying attention to what was happening? Could they understand what was happening?
JOHN S.: For me, my parents always said, you know, the old saying, just say no. That type of thing. And they did whatever they could to try and get me to stop. Sent me to treatment after treatment. From the age of -- I mean, I was in my first treatment not even a year after I started getting high. So it was pretty fast and there was no drugs, no underage drinking allowed in their house, but I just did what I wanted to do and kept on going pretty much.
JOSH R.: My parents were -- they were strict. And I ran from it. There was nothing. Before I graduated high school, I moved out of my house twice. I lived with some using buddies. So I just ran from whatever guidelines they set down.
DOBBS: Nine years old.
JOHN U.: Well, I mean, like I said, my father had issued with alcoholism as well. Not that I'm trying to put the blame on anybody, you know, but I mean, my mom was a -- was just starting her own business at the time and, I mean, it was just there. You know? I mean, it was something that I was interested in.
DOBBS: What -- how did you succeed in going into recovery?
JOHN U.: How did I succeed into going into recovery?
DOBBS: How did you straighten yourself out? What was the turning point?
JOHN U.: Well, I eventually. I mean, after everything was going on and everything, I got arrested when I was about 14, and I was put into -- my mom put me into an outpatient treatment center. And I got there and, you know, I was just like, oh, yeah, I want to be sober, but I didn't really care. And then I got put on probation and I came up on a dirty urine and they sent me to a -- to an in-patient treatment center down in Louisiana.
DOBBS: Did that succeed?
JOHN U.: Yeah, for me it did.
JOSH R.: I ... DOBBS: What was the turning point for you?
JOSH R.: I joined the Marine Corps at 18 thinks that's going to fix me. I mean, it's the marines, they're going to straighten me out.
DOBBS: They usually do.
JOSH R.: I was one of the few. I got kicked out of the Marine Corps for distribution of methamphetamine and I did 145 days in the brig. A bad conduct discharge and it's the best thing that ever happened to me because I'm sober today because of that experience in the brig. That's what I needed. That was my emotional breakdown.
JOHN S.: After a couple of inpatient treatments and quite a few outpatient treatments just following in suit, I hit a car while I -- I blacked out. Don't really remember any of it. Hit a car about 100 feet from my parents' house. Got charged with a DUI, a hit and run and ended up getting sent to treatment after jail.
DOBBS: John, thank you very much for being here. Thanks for sharing your story. We really appreciate it. We wish you all the very best. All the best of luck.
JOHN S.: Thank you.
DOBBS: Josh, you as well. And John U., we really appreciate you taking the time.
JOHN U.: Thank you.
DOBBS: Three remarkable young men, and we hope that everyone suffering addiction in this country can hear something just right that will help them, too.
Coming up at the top of the hour, LARRY KING LIVE. Larry?
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Hey, Lou. Coming up, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and a former American hostage in Iran on the story the whole world is watching. Those British sailors held hostage by Iran.
We'll also hear from Lou Dobbs on your Capitol Hill testimony today. It's all ahead at the top of the hour, Lou.
DOBBS: You've got me working hard tonight, Larry. Thank you very much. Look forward to it.
DOBBS: Coming up next, more with our panel of experts. We'll take a look at the solutions, the possible solutions to bring our war on drugs to a successful conclusion and to help addicts bring their crises under control. Stay with us.
DOBBS: We're back at George Washington University for some final thoughts about solutions to this national crisis. Tracy, I want to turn to you first.
DOBBS: Your solutions.
DOWNS: Well, I think campuses need to partner with their local communities. Bring in those key stakeholders that I mentioned in the community. They're the landlords, the bar owners, the police, the city council and develop a plan.
CALIFANO: I think it's parents. I mean, I think parents -- parent power is the key. If you get a kid through age 21 without smoking, without using illegal drugs and abusing alcohol, that kid is certain to be home free for the rest of his or her life and the greatest influence on those children are their parents for better or worse.
RAMSTAD: Greater access to treatment. When President Nixon first declared war on drugs, he dedicated 60 percent of the funding, federal funds to treatment. Today that percentage is under 20 percent, it's about 18 or 19 percent. We need treatment parity for people in health plans. We need Medicare parity for seniors giving the rising rate in alcoholism and depression among seniors.
We need more funding for Medicaid. We need to deal with our veterans, V.A. health care. We need more funding for their treatment so that they don't have to wait in line for a bed for treatment and we also have to provide more funding in our prisons for prisoners.
Because most of them are going to get out and we're not dealing with the underlying problem of their crime.
DOBBS: Nora ...
VOLKOW: By far, if I have to choose one, prevention. Drug abuse and addiction are fully preventable. How do you do that? That's the challenge, you educate and you use everything you have to educate so to try interfere with children or adolescents to take drugs. That means the family, it means the school system, and you give them opportunities.
So it's not just about telling kids, don't take drugs. It's about telling them all of the other things that they can do with their lives and how can they devastate it and throw it away with drugs. So, prevention.
DOBBS: Well I'm going to applaud that one.
Tracy Downs, we thank you very much for being here. Joe Califano, thank you very much, Congressman Jim Ramstad, thank you very much.
CARIFANO: And we thank you for your whole serious. It's fantastic what you're doing.
DOBBS: And we want to thank this wonderful audience at George Washington University who have been terrific and we want to share with everyone the results of our poll tonight.
The poll result? Ninety-five percent of you say the United States is not committed to winning the war on drugs. We love consensus and agreement on this broadcast.
We thank you for being with us here tonight. We would like to thank all of our guests, our studio audience and particularly those three young men who worked so hard to succeed. We wish them all the very best and every addict who is recovering or otherwise in this country.
We'll be back again here tomorrow night for another special report. For all of us, thanks for watching, good night from Washington.
LARRY KING LIVE starts right now.
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