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ATLANTA -- The nation's drug czar toured a drug-ridden Atlanta neighborhood on Monday night, catching a glimpse of street corners where nearly any illegal drug is for sale.
John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, rode along with police through the Vine City and Washington Park areas, one of the busiest markets for heroin and crack in the South.
A group of about a dozen people quickly moved off a side street when unmarked cars approached. Another group didn't move an inch from a busy intersection.
Walters came to Atlanta to see how the city handles its drug problems. He plans a 26-city tour later this year to survey the crime and poverty that accompany drugs.
"He wants to meet with people working in the area, look at initiatives in place, and from this dialogue get a sense of what local communities need to address the problem," said Kareemah Abdullah, chair of the Genesis Prevention Coalition, a drug prevention group.
During the drive, Walters mostly listened and asked police and community workers questions.
What are the popular drugs? What's being done? Is government money used effectively? How do addicts get treatment?
He said it's important to meet with local leaders to find out what the problem is and see for himself.
"The encouraging part is there are people pushing back against the problem," Walters said. "When you push back, the problem gets smaller. This isn't a situation where we don't know what to do."
The best way to help drug-infested areas is to get communities involved, increase the police presence, bring in prevention and treatment centers and clean up blemished housing, said Maj. Vincent Moore of the Atlanta police.
"We need to break the cycle of people knowing exactly where the drugs are," he said. "People come into this environment because they feel comfortable buying and using drugs here."