New science-driven drug policy emphasizes treatment

The White House sees drug abuse as a public health issue, stressing that "we cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of the drug problem."

Earlier this week, the White House released a science-driven plan for drug policy reform -- one with “evidence-based reforms” that treat the drug problem as a public health matter.

“Drug policy reform should be rooted in neuroscience -- not political science,” says Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) director Gil Kerlikowske. “It should be a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue. That’s what a 21st century approach to drug policy looks like. ”

In 2007, illicit drug use cost taxpayers more than $193 billion in lost productivity, healthcare, and criminal justice costs. According to the White House blog:

This policy underscores what we all know to be true: we cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of the drug problem.

The President’s 2014 budget requests $1.4 billion more for treatment and prevention programs compared to 2012 -- the largest requested increase in at least two decades -- citing how every dollar spent on treatment saves four dollars in health care costs and seven dollars in public safety costs.

The National Drug Control Strategy [pdf] promises to reflect on scientific research by:

  • Understanding that addiction is a disease of the brain, and emphasizing prevention and treatment over incarceration.
  • Expanding specialized drug courts to divert non-violent offenders away from prison.
  • Helping women with substance use disorders get access to prenatal care.
  • Educating teenagers through programs like the Drug Free Communities Support Program and offering early health interventions designed to break the cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration, and re-arrest.
  • Expanding mental health and addiction treatment to 62 million Americans by 2020 through the Affordable Care Act. (Insurance companies will be required to cover treatment for addiction just as they would cover any other chronic disease.)
  • Providing job networks and stable housing through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Access to Recovery Program.

The report, however, does not tackle the issue of recent marijuana legalization under some state laws.

[White House blog via PopSci, PLOS]

Image: National Institute of Drug Abuse

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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