Quietly shifting the war on drugs
The Obama administration has quietly revolutionized the nation's drug policies by starting to treat illegal drug use as a public health issue.
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The "war on drugs" is already over in the minds of many in the Obama administration. "Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product,' people see a war as a war on them," White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the "drug czar," Gil Kerlikowske, told the Wall Street Journal last year. "We're not at war with people in this country."
The administration recently backed up that rhetoric with sweeping changes to US drug policies. The federal government pledged to devote more resources toward the prevention and treatment of illegal drugs.
"On the national drug strategy, look, the words are great," Joseph Califano, founder of Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, told Here & Now. "The issue is, what's the follow up?"
Out of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on US drug policies, Califano points to studies showing that only four percent goes to prevention and treatment. The rest goes to "shovel up the consequences," including the crime, homelessness, and violence. Califano is waiting to see real changes in the federal budget, before he applauds the federal reforms.
Though prevention is still under-funded, Harrold Pollack praises the changes in The New Republic, writing: "America is now committed to pursuing imperfect but greatly improved drug policies."
The new plan pays more attention to diagnosis and screening, and "quietly revolutionized financing of addiction services." Billions of dollars are being poured into addiction treatment through health reform and mental-health parity legislation. The United States is now dealing more diplomatically abroad, when it comes to drug policies, too. According to Pollack, these alone constitute long overdue steps in the right direction.
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