White House Drug Strategy Emphasizes Treatment, Prevention

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In its annual report on drug control strategy, the White House makes a subtle shift in policy, emphasizing drug use prevention and treatment over strategies targeting drug production and trafficking.

The 2012 National Drug Control Strategy states that the primary goal of the Obama administration is reducing drug use by 15 percent by 2015. When describing the strategy’s priorities, the plan lists drug use prevention and the strengthening of drug treatment programs, before listing tactics more associated with law enforcement.

During a press conference, Director of the National Drug Control Center Gil Kerlikowske told reporters that the emphasis on prevention and treatment represented “a revolution in how we approach drug control.”

“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,” he added. “We can’t arrest our way out of the drug problem.”

The 2012 strategy builds on the administration’s first drug policy plan released in 2010, which requested budget increases in spending for addiction treatment and drug prevention programs.

The report also notes that while use of traditional drugs like cocaine and marijuana is declining, usage of synthetic drugs and prescription pills continues to increase, representing a new policy challenge.

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The slight change in rhetoric in the drug plan is welcome, but it does not represent a “revolutionary” change in the government’s overall approach to narcotics control. Like the 2010 and 2011 drug plans, this latest plan emphasizes domestic demand reduction, but so far this shift in priorities is not evidence in the federal budget. According to the 2011 budget summary for the National Drug Control Strategy, the White House requested $3,727 million dollars for drug interdiction efforts, compared to $1,718 million for drug prevention programs. Drug law reform organization the Drug Policy Alliance called the 2012 strategy “more of the same,” and so far, that seems to be the case for the government’s drug control budget.

Read the full strategy here [pdf].

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