WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced a
revised approach to "confronting the complex challenge of drug use
and its consequences," putting more resources into drug prevention
The new drug control strategy boosts community-based anti-drug
programs, encourages health care providers to screen for drug
problems before addiction sets in and expands treatment beyond
specialty centers to mainstream health care facilities.
"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," Obama said. "I am confident that when
we take the steps outlined in this strategy, we will make our
country stronger and our people healthier and safer."
The plan - the first drug plan unveiled by the Obama White House
- calls for reducing the rate of youth drug use by 15 percent over
the next five years and for similar reductions in chronic drug use,
drug abuse deaths and drugged driving.
In an interview Monday, Gil Kerlikowske, the White House drug
czar, said, "It changes the whole discussion about ending the war
on drugs and recognizes that we have a responsibility to reduce our
own drug use in this country."
Kerlikowske criticized past drug strategies for measuring
success by counting the number of children and teens who have not
tried marijuana. At the same time, he said, the number of deaths
from illegal and prescription drug overdoses was rising.
"Us facing that issue and dealing with it head on is
important," Kerlikowske said.
The new drug plan encourages health care professionals to ask
patients questions about drug use even during routine treatment so
that early intervention is possible. It also helps more states set
up electronic databases to identify doctors who are overprescribing
addictive pain killers.
"Putting treatment into the primary health care discussion is
critical," Kerlikowske said.
The policy shift comes in the wake of several other drug policy
reforms since Obama took office. Obama signed a measure repealing a
two-decade old ban on the use of federal money for needle-exchange
programs to reduce the spread of HIV. His administration also said
it won't target medical marijuana patients or caregivers as long as
they comply with state laws and aren't fronts for drug traffickers.
Earlier this year, Obama called on Congress to eliminate the
disparity in sentencing that punishes crack crimes more heavily
than those involving powder cocaine.
Some drug reform advocates like the direction Obama is heading,
but question whether the administration's focus on treatment and
prevention programs is more rhetoric than reality at this point.
They point to the national drug control budget proposal released
earlier this year, for example, which continues to spend about
twice as much money on enforcement as it does on programs to reduce
"The improved rhetoric is not matched by any fundamental shift
in the budget or the broader thrust of the drug policy," said
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance,
which favors drug policy reform.
Nadelmann praised some of Obama's changes, but said he is
disappointed with the continued focus on arresting, prosecuting and
incarcerating large numbers of people.
Kerlikowske rejected that as "inside the Beltway discussion,"
and said there are many programs that combine interdiction and
The drug control office's budget request does include a 13
percent increase in spending on alcohol and drug prevention
programs, along with a 3.7 percent increase for addiction