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.