2010 National Drug Control Strategy: limited progress

Posted on May 11th, 2010 by Global Ganja Report and tagged , , , , , .

On May 11, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, or "Drug Czar" office) released its 2010 National Drug Control Strategy, marking a shift of emphasis from law enforcement to treatment and prevention—compared to the enforcement-centered strategy of the Bush administration.

"By boosting community-based prevention, expanding treatment, strengthening law enforcement, and working collaboratively with our global partners, we will reduce drug use and the great damage it causes in our communities," President Barack Obama said in a statement, calling the plan a "balanced approach to confronting the complex challenge of drug use and its consequences."

The strategy sets five ambitious goals to be met over the next five years: reducing the rate of youth drug use by 15%; decreasing drug use among young adults by 10%; reducing the number of chronic drug users by 15%; reducing the incidence of drug-induced deaths by 15%; and reducing the prevalence of drugged driving by 10%.

Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske was explicit in his rejection of the term "War on Drugs." "Calling it a war really limits your resources," he told reporters. "Looking at this as both a public safety problem and a public health problem seems to make a lot more sense."

Kerlikowske also criticized past drug strategies for measuring success by counting the number of children and teens who have not tried marijuana. "Quite often the marijuana issue was front and center in almost all of the discussion, and yet we have seen significant increase in drug overdose deaths mainly driven by prescription drugs," Kerlikowske said.

In a development with potentially ominous implications for privacy, the new plan encourages health care professionals to ask patients questions about drug use even during routine treatment, to faciliate early intervention. It also helps more states set up electronic databases to identify doctors who are over-prescribing addictive pain killers. "Putting treatment into the primary health care discussion is critical," Kerlikowske said in an interview.

The new strategy does call for reforming federal policies that prohibit people with criminal convictions and in recovery from accessing housing, employment, student loans and driver's licenses. And while it avoids actually using the phrase "harm reduction," it endorses a variety of measures aimed at reducing the harm from drug use, such as alternatives to incarceration for people struggling with addiction. All of this diverges from the drug policies of the Reagan, Clinton and two Bush administrations.

Yet 64% of the proposed budget—virtually the same as under the Bush administration and its predecessors—focuses on enforcement and interdiction efforts. Only 36% is earmarked for demand reduction -- and even that proportion is inflated because the ONDCP "budget" no longer includes costs such as the $2 billion expended annually to incarcerate people who violate federal drug laws.

"There's little doubt that this administration seriously wants to distance itself from the rhetoric of the drug war, but its new plan makes clear that it is still addicted to the reality of the drug war," writes Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Still missing is the full throttle commitment to treating drug misuse as a public health issue, and to harm reduction innovations that have proven so successful in Europe and Canada." (USA Today's The Oval blog, AP, CSM, Ethan Nadelmann in Huffington Post, May 11)

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