During the past several months, there have been several preventable fatalites in our local area - some among young people.

The culprit has been illegal drugs.

We've heard of suicides, accidental deaths, and possible even murder with drugs.

Is there any headway occurring in the war on illegal drugs? Police in some municipalities are fighting a valiant battle as evidenced by arrests that occur, but the enemy far outnumbers them.

This is not just a local problem. It's a problem occurring all over the country. More and more drugs seem to be finding their way into the region. This is leading not only to the heartbreak of death in many families, but also to social crises and an increase of violent crime.

Go to any courtroom on sentencing day and listen to how many defendants of criminal acts tell the judge: "Drugs made me do it."

Look at criminal records in the court system and see how many arrests are made for possession or the distribution of drugs.

We're not talking about marijuana, which seemed to be the drug of choice in the 60s and 70s. There's a whole new world of dangerous, deadly substances out there.

Heroin use is on the increase. So is cocaine. A drug which is especially alarming in its prevalency is "bath salts," which really isn't as the name implies. Such designer drugs have sometimes even more pronounced effects than cocaine or heroin.

Designer drugs such as "bath salts" are often easily accessible because they are legal.

As an example of how widespread the problem is:

Ÿ The Honolulu Advertiser newspaper tells of a designer drug called "Spice" which is becoming popular among military members.

Ÿ The Peninsula Daily News in Olympic, Washington tells of Spice arriving in schools there.

What's the answer?

Education is certainly important, letting especially young people know the dangers and destruction that drugs occur, especially the designer drugs.

Stronger punishment, especially for sellers, is needed. Those using and selling illegal drugs must know they won't get away with a lecture or a couple of days in jail. They must be held accountable for their actions.

Mostly, there has to be rapid action taken to make designer drugs illegal. Penalties for selling them should include shutting down businesses which choose to sell them.

Finally, being high on drugs cannot be a court defense. People must be held accountable for their own actions.

The war on drugs has to be aggressive. Too much ground is already lost.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com