Drug policy to focus on treatment more than prison, says drug czar

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National drug policy should focus less on incarceration and more on treatment, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, said April 17 when announcing an annual update to U.S. anti-narcotics strategy.

"Outdated policies like the mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders are relics of the past," said Kerlikowske, adding that what's needed is a "balanced public health and safety approach to our drug problem."

The 2012 strategy (.pdf) calls "evidence-based substance use prevention…among the highest drug policy priorities" of the Obama administration and sets out a goal to reduce the number of chronic drug users by 15 percent  by 2015.

Research by the Health and Human Services Departments says (.pdf) that every $1 spent on "an evidence-based prevention program can reduce costs related to substance use disorders by an average of $18," a blog post attributed to Kerlikowske, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius and Attorney General Eric Holder states.

Among the 113 actions called for by the strategy are expanding access to recovery programs and removal of "barriers to recovery specific to housing, federal student assistance, and collateral consequences of conviction established in state and local law."

The strategy also calls for increased cooperation with Mexico in anti-drug efforts and disruption of the "narcotics-insurgency nexus and the narcotics-corruption nexus" in Afghanistan.

A White House press release notes that overall drug use in the United States has dropped by roughly a third since the late 1970s. "More recently, there has been a 40 percent drop in current cocaine use and meth use has dropped by half," the release adds.

Legalization as a national policy still appears to be off the table. During his recent trip to Colombia for the Summit of the Americas, President Obama said that legalization "isn't the answer." In an interview with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, Obama emphasized demand reduction as a course of action and said the drug crisis has its roots in consumption, including within the United States.

For more:
- download the 2012 national drug control strategy (.pdf)

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