'Forgotten War' Looks at Anti-Drug Efforts

Monday on All Things Considered, NPR will launch a series on the war against drugs — the so-called "Forgotten War." John Burnett, one of the reporters on the series, tells Debbie Elliott what to expect.

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Unidentified Man #1: Looks like they've stopped there, are trying to surrender. We're going to have to hold off…

Unidentified Man #2: The drug war has really faltered.

Unidentified Man #3: Roger.

Unidentified Man #4: We've lulled ourselves into believing that we've either won the drug war or that somehow it really doesn't matter.

Unidentified Man #5: I mean, we're looking down the street in Northwest Washington, and it's an open-air market for crack cocaine, heroine.

Unidentified Man #6: How many blocks away are we from the Capitol?

Unidentified Man #5: I guess we're about four.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Next week, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED will be airing a five-part series called the "Forgotten War." It's about the war on drugs, a multi-billion-dollar battle that's been going on for nearly four decades. What has it accomplished, and where are we in that battle?

That's what NPR correspondent John Burnett set out to find when he began looking into the war on drugs. His investigation leads the series, and he joins us here today to talk about it. John, what drew you to the subject?

JOHN BURNETT: Well, there were actually two things that happened, one personal and one professional. We live in Austin, Texas, and we have teenagers, and we know many families that do, and we know that our schools are absolutely swimming in drugs, but this was not really being reflected on what we were hearing out of the White House drug czar's office.

And second, I'd done some reporting on the ground in Central America, particularly in Nicaragua and Guatemala, in which I went to the communities that were living and enjoying the profits of drugs, and it was - they were doing so with such impunity and were laughing at the enforcement efforts going on out in the - on the seas and in the air that it - I really began to see the drug war through different eyes.

ELLIOTT: Can you give us a quick preview of what we'll be hearing next week?

BURNETT: We'll have reports from the streets of Washington, D.C., in which there is an open-air drug market four blocks from the Capitol building. We'll hear from Bogota, Colombia, from a village in a coco-growing area, to find out what the results of six years and $5 billion of planned Colombia are.

We'll have reporting from inside a U.S. customs plane flying over the Caribbean, chasing drug boats. We'll have a report from San Antonio, Texas, which has a really interesting, promising grassroots program in drug prevention. And then we'll go to the drug czar's office in Washington.

ELLIOTT: Well, we look forward to hearing the "Forgotten War" series starting tomorrow on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. NPR's John Burnett, thanks so much.

BURNETT: Thanks, Debbie.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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