It looks like one of the POW-MIA bracelets common during the Vietnam War. Engraved on its face is the inscription “Tish Elizabeth Smith - 4-9-76 - 1-18-95.”
For Barry McCaffrey, who wears it on his left wrist, it’s a reminder of his goal as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy for the president.
The bracelet was given to him in Richmond, Va., by Smith’s mother, who told him how her 18-year-old daughter had been a straight-A student until she went to Virginia Commonwealth University and was introduced to drugs.
She died a week after starting to use heroin and crack cocaine.
McCaffrey, who was in town Saturday, said the bracelet constantly reminds him that the objective of his job is to “reduce human suffering.”
No stranger to the area, the retired Army general was stationed at Fort Lewis near Tacoma for 4-1/2 years and considers Washington state his official residence. His three children are University of Washington graduates.
McCaffrey told a group of about 100 kids at a Youth Discovery Camp at Fort Lawton that he had visited kindergarten classes where 100 percent of the students had seen drug use and someone shot.
But, he said, he is generally optimistic about reducing drug abuse, noting that 82 percent of American kids don’t use drugs.
Family members can play a key role in the battle against substance abuse by preventing their children from smoking, drinking or using drugs before the age of 20, he said.
According to McCaffrey, if a person gets to 20 without such abuse, chances are he will be drug-free for life.
McCaffrey intends to motivate youth to reject illegal drugs; reduce drug-related crime and violence; reduce costs, such as health and welfare, from illegal drug use; protect the U.S. borders from drug trafficking; and break foreign and domestic drug suppliers.
He is skeptical of needle-exchange programs, which have been successful in Seattle and Tacoma. Seattle has one of the nation’s leading programs with an estimated 890,000 sterile needles a year swapped with drug addicts in King County to help reduce the risk of AIDS and other diseases.
Instead, McCaffrey said he’d prefer to see more comprehensive outreach and education programs and other efforts to cut drug use and not condone it through the needle-exchange program.