Obama Reveals New Drug Control Strategy

By Chrisanne Grise 04/24/13

But despite its "kinder and gentler face," critics say that US drug policy "remains in the Dark Ages."

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Today, the Obama administration unveiled its new plan for fighting drugs, which will focus on using science-based prevention initiatives, and sending non-violent offenders to treatment instead of jail. A large part of the 2013 National Drug Control Strategy will focus on a “smart on crime” approach to drug enforcement, creating more drug courts and directing many of those who have been arrested to treatment facilities. And under the new rule in the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies will be required to cover treatment for substance use disorders. “This plan represents a smarter approach to drug policy in America—one based on the premise that addiction is a disease that can be prevented and treated,” says Gil Kerlikowske, the director of National Drug Control Policy. “We must address drug use as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue.” The Obama administration has requested over $10.7 billion to support drug education programs and increase treatment availability around the country. However, Kerlikowske says that there will still be law enforcement efforts against those manufacturing or dealing illegal drugs. 

But many drug policy experts and advocates are critical of the new plan, and doubt that it will make a positive difference. “The administration wants to have it both ways—to say it sees addiction as a disease and that it is committed to a public health approach—but it then insists that people struggling with addiction to illicit drugs must be handled by and within the criminal justice system,” Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, tells The Fix. “Drug courts are not a public health approach to drug misuse, nor are policies that incarcerate people whose only offense is to possess or consume an illicit substance.” Nadelmann also points out that the report fails to mention harm reduction policies (like supervised injection facilities) or any progress towards decriminalization. He believes this makes the new strategy essentially useless, explaining: “With the single exception of the administration’s recent embrace of public health approaches to reduce overdose fatalities—for which it deserves praise—this report smacks of spin control, of essentially trying to put a kinder and gentler face on a drug policy that remains in the Dark Ages.”

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Chrisanne Grise is a multimedia journalist specializing in health/fitness, lifestyle, travel, bridal, and music. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Parents, FitnessMagazine, Fisher Price, Bridal Guide, Scholastic's Choices, AbsolutePunk.net, Chorus.fm, and more. She is the Senior Editor at The New York Times Upfront. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.