New US Anti-Drug Policy Stresses Treatment, Prevention

By Dialogo
April 20, 2012

The White House unveiled a new drug policy strategy on April 17, that veers away from imposing heavy prison sentences for illicit drug use and focuses instead on prevention and treatment.

Officials said the new approach looks at drug addiction as a treatable disease rather than a crime.

“For U.S. drug policy, this is nothing short of a revolution in how we approach drug control,” Gil Kerlikowske, director of the National Drug

Control Center, told reporters at a press event.

He added that “the strategy emphasizes the importance of bolstering efforts to prevent drug use before it starts.”

“There’s a real reason to be optimistic that these reform efforts will reduce and continue to reduce drug use and its consequences on society,”

said Kerlikowske.

Officials said that the administration would move away from outmoded policies like the mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders, and

toward an approach that balances public health and safety.

“My colleagues — police and others — simply put, often say we can’t arrest our way out of the drug problem,” said Kerlikowske, the so-called U.S. “drug

czar,” who said that current thinking by health experts views drug addiction as a disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated.

He added, however, that “the drug threat is far from over and, to be sure, there is more work to be done.”

The policy shift comes at a time when illicit drug use in the United States, broadly speaking, is on the decline. The administration said drug abuse

currently is only about one-third the rate it was in the late 1970s.

But the administration conceded that the picture is not entirely rosy, acknowledging in a 60 page report that illicit drug abuse has risen among

teenagers, from 16.8 percent in 2006 to 19.2 percent last year, and that U.S. youth perceive marijuana use as benign.

The administration says its revamped drug policy increases penalties on major drug traffickers while accelerating efforts to send non-violent drug

offenders into treatment instead of jail.

The administration said it is seeking about $10 billion from Congress for drug education programs and pay for expanded access to treatment programs

for drug abusers.

The White House budget for 2013 also seeks $9.4 billion for domestic law enforcement, $3.7 billion for interdiction efforts, and $2 billion for

international programs.