TUESDAY, April 17 (HealthDay News) -- The Obama Administration
has chosen the middle ground with its new drug control policy,
advocating treatment over tough sentencing.
The approach, unveiled Tuesday, rejects both the harsh "war on
drugs" approach, characterized by maximum sentences for drug
offenses, and the push to legalize illegal drugs.
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National
Drug Control Policy, said during a news conference Tuesday that
both approaches were "not humane or realistic, and not grounded in
Instead, he said, the new blueprint calls for more community
programs along with changes to the probation-and-parole system that
would send non-violent offenders to substance abuse treatment.
"This is nothing short of a revolution in how we approach drug abuse," Kerlikowske said.
Although overall drug use is down in the United States, more
Americans than ever are dying from drug-induced death, even more
than from gunshot wounds, said Kerlikowske.
At the same time, more than 7 million people are under the
supervision of the criminal justice system, either incarcerated or
on probation or parole. Many have drug offenses, he noted.
"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," Kerlikowske said. "We can't arrest our way out of the drug problem."
With that in mind, the new policy embraces three concepts,
according to Kerlikowske's office: addiction is a disease that can
be treated; people with substance use disorders can recover; and
criminal justice reforms can stop the revolving door of drug use,
crime, incarceration and re-arrest.
The new strategy builds on previous Obama Administration
innovations, such as the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which rolled
back a mandatory 100-to-1 minimum sentence disparity between powder
and crack cocaine, put non-violent offenders into treatment via
drug court and emphasized prevention, Kerlikowske said.
The new plan outlines more than 100 specific actions involving
screening, brief interventions and referral to treatment and the
Affordable Care Act, "which will make drug treatment a required
benefit from all that suffer from substance abuse," Kerlikowske
Much of the new plan centered on new strategies for dealing with
parole and probation violations related to drug use.
Currently, people on probation and parole have 16 or 17
violations before they receive sanctions, said Angela Hawken, an
associate professor of economics and policy analysis at Pepperdine
University's School of Public Policy in Los Angeles.
A new program in Hawaii has shown success in arresting parole
violators immediately and sentencing them to short periods of jail
time followed by mandatory drug testing, the officials noted.
"Drug use is down 80 to 90 percent over baseline, arrests are down and there is a large reduction in costly probation revocations," Hawken said.
The new administration plan also emphasizes community-based
programs, such as drug-free communities and youth campaigns.
"Our goal is to reform the public health system so we can learn to recognize the signs of drug addiction and intervene appropriately before the justice system becomes involved," Kerlikowske said. "There's a real reason to be optimistic with these reform efforts."
Office of National Drug Control Policy for more on the new
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