Addiction is among our most significant public health problems, which is why I am so excited that the Obama/Biden Administration has named A. Thomas McLellan to the post of Deputy Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Tom brings tremendous talent and experience as an addiction researcher to the position, and from my experience and discussions with him, will not shy away from speaking his mind and doing what is right for those who struggle with addiction.
His appointment comes at a time when the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University recently released their second report on the cost of addiction in our society: Shoveling up II: The impact of substance abuse on federal, state, and local budgets.
Of the $373.9 billion in federal and state spending found in the CASA report :
- 95.6% went to shovel up the consequences of substance abuse and addiction
- 1.9% went to prevention and treatment
- 0.4% to research
- 1.4% to taxation and regulation
- 0.7% to interdiction
Let’s hope Tom can change this.
What do I think about the war on drugs?
The modern war on drugs really began when the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was created in 1988 to deal with the epidemic of cocaine abuse throughout the 1980s. Since its inception, ONDCP has spent billions to battle illegal drug abuse in the United States, primarily pushing three goals:
- Stop use before it starts through prevention efforts
- Heal drug abusers by getting treatment resources where they are needed
- Disrupt the markets for illegal drugs by attacking the economic basis of the drug trade
In a critical analysis of the effectiveness of ONDCP, Dr. Matthew Robinson and Dr. Renee Scherlen, both Associate Professors from Appalachian State University, conclude that the drug war has been a massive failure.
After reviewing six editions of the annual National Drug Control Strategy between 2000 and 2005, they provide significant empirical evidence that ONDCP has not represented the facts about the drug war accurately, often skew statistics to put a rosy face on less than productive results, and in the end, should be abolished.
What should our policy be?
- Stop saying “war on drugs” as this punitive ideological language does not represent a well thought-out and humane approach to addiction in our society.
- Beef-up our prevention efforts in families and communities using empirically validated risk and protective factor approaches that address a wide range of adolescent problem behaviors.
- Increase funding for treatment.
- Drop the “abstinence” approach to drug abuse as the only viable intervention option and incorporate scientifically validated harm reduction approaches (e.g., needle exchange programs).
- Decriminalize marijuana for personal use (see Reefer Madness).
When drug use hits home
This topic reminds me of one of the best movies ever on this topic: Traffic. In this clip the head of ONDCP catches his own daughter doing drugs. This scene clearly makes the point that a war on drugs is a war against our own loved ones.
Ivy H.-S. says
I agree that the “war on drugs” is and has been a complete failure, and am hopeful and excited that changes in policy to this devastating problem in America may soon take a different approach. I have seen the statistics on how and where the money for this “war” is spent it is disheartening every time this information is presented. To me, what gets lost in trying to decide how this problem of addiction should be addressed is a very basic understanding and realization-NOBODY wants to be an addict. No matter how often one has used or how long they have been using, if it was an option for them to just walk away from drugs and be emotionally and mentally healthy and high functioning, of course they would. Who wouldn’t be? Punishing someone because of thier addictions (which is how I see these prison sentences being), instead of using so much of the financial resources we have toward the treatment and recovery these folks so badly need makes absolutely no sense to me. Unless the reasons behind why they are self medicating are addressed and resolved, we as a nation will never be able to fight this war.
Angela Hamilton says
First, I applaud the ONDCP for its continued efforts in fighting the drug problem in our country. It is unfortunate that we spent millions of dollars on rehabilitative services and incarceration on addicts. It appears that the US continually throws money at a problem instead of educating those in need to prevent the problem from occuring in the first place. Perhaps Mr. McLellan can introduce new educational programs in our schools to educate our children on the impact of drug use and addiction. Those millions of dollars thrown away would be a vital resource for our educational health system.
Dan J says
I have to admit that I know very little about the funding behind the war on drugs. From what I do understand, I think that point number three, increasing money for treatment, can be a huge positive factor.
I agree with both Dr. Fitzgerald and Ivy that using sentencing as a punitive factor is near the heart of the problem. Prisons are often violent, and drug use still exist in prison walls. Sentencing non-violent offenders to prison may increase their likelihood to use. A better option would to sentence selected drug and non-violent crime offenders to rehab and mental health services for their term. This policy would diminish violence and drug use instead of increasing it, and would be more cost effective.
Education, and I mean basic education not just drug education, is also a big factor. I read a study (don’t ask me which) that showed a direct correlation in Montana between falling literacy rates among third graders and an increase in convicted felons. To my dismay the study actually encouraged analyzing third grade literacy in order to appropriately use funding to build more prisons. It seems like the money would have been better spent teaching kids how to read.
Haley Weiner says
How refreshing that the Obama administration has actually chosen someone with his feet planted in the real world, and who actually takes scientifically-sound research about addiction seriously, to be the new Deputy Director. The fact that only 1.9% of our funding for addictions is being used for prevention while the lion’s share is used for punitive or consequential action of addiction is abhorrent. We need a new strategy that takes into account the latest research, as well as the effects that our recent policies have had on our population. I believe that decreasing the severity of human devastation on the preventative level, while still leaving people’s rights and freedoms intact, should be the goal of anti-addiction work, not the incarceration and further marginalization of drug addicts.
Before even reaching the end of the commentary, my first thought was of the movie Traffic, and what a wonderful depiction of the “War on Drugs” that our government is fighting.
Punishing people for their addiction is not the right way to go. As stated, this is an addiction, and there as we know are certain risk factors, and well as certain precursors to a drug addiction. We should be focusing much more on the prevention, treatment and ways to reduce harm.