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Has Obama's Drug Policy Softened?

The White House says its new drug control strategy will focus more on prevention and treatment than punishment.

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Obama offers up an even-handed strategy to
tackle drugs in the US. Photo via

By Valerie Tejeda

04/18/12

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The US government's drug control strategy should focus more on prevention and treatment, and less on incarceration of drug offenders, said the White House on yesterday. A new strategy is planned, aiming for a middle-of-the-road approach: it will counter both the push for drug legalization, as well as the aggressive “War on Drugs.” It also calls for changes to the probation-and-parole systemsending non-violent offenders to substance abuse treatment programs instead of jail—and for more community programs to provide addiction education and outreach. "This is nothing short of a revolution in how we approach drug abuse," says Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Although overall drug use is down in the United States, more Americans than ever are dying from drug-induced death, even more than from gunshot wounds. This underscores the need for different approaches for drug control, one that treats drug addiction as a disease, in which drug-related crime is addressed in a fair and equitable manner. We can't arrest our way out of the drug problem.”

In line with a more comprehensive understanding of addiction, the new policy will embrace three concepts: first, that addiction is a disease that can be treated. Second, that people with substance use disorders can recover. And third, that criminal justice reforms can stop the revolving door of drug use, crime, incarceration and re-arrest. Building on previous innovations from the Obama administration, the new plan outlines over 100 actions that can be taken in place of criminal enforcement. These included drug screenings, brief interventions, referral to treatment and the Affordable Care Act, which according to Kerlikowske, “will make drug treatment a required benefit from all that suffer from substance abuse."

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