New US anti-drug policy stresses treatment, prevention

Tuesday April 17 2012

Photo/FILE  President Obama has agreed to direct talks on the thorny issue of rampant drug consumption in the United States.

Photo/FILE President Obama has agreed to direct talks on the thorny issue of rampant drug consumption in the United States. 


The White House unveiled a new drug policy strategy Tuesday that veers away from imposing heavy prison sentences for illicit drug use and focuses instead on prevention and treatment.

Officials said the new approach looks at drug addiction as a treatable disease rather than a crime.

"Outdated policies like the mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders are relics of the past that ignore the need for a balanced public health and safety approach to our drug problem," said Gil Kerlikowske director of the National Drug Control Center in a statement.

"The policy alternatives contained in our new strategy support mainstream reforms based on the proven facts that drug addiction is a disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated and that we cannot simply arrest our way out of the drug problem," he said.

The announcement of a revised administration drug policy approach comes just days after a regional summit in Cartagena, Colombia, where leaders from across the Americas agreed to consider alternatives to the US-led "War on Drugs," which over the decades has claimed tens of thousands of lives, but yielded only meager results.

Obama at last weekend's summit told his counterparts from Mexico, Central and South America that he opposed legalising drugs, but agreed for the first time to direct talks on the thorny issue of rampant drug consumption in the United States -- the world's most voracious consumer of cocaine.

The US leader also agreed to ramped up US efforts to stem the flow of money and arms toward Latin America.

His administration's revamped drug policy accelerates administration efforts to divert non-violent drug offenders into treatment instead of incarceration, while imposing stiffer penalties on major drug traffickers.

Officials said the new anti-drug strategy also puts a greater emphasis on the healthcare system and youth outreach.

The overall goal is to break "the cycle of drug crime, incarceration and arrest," said Charles Ramsey, chief of police in the city of Philadelphia and one of the key partners from the field of law enforcement in the effort.

"Policing in the 21st century means being tough but smart in how we address our nation's drug problem," he said.

"Those of us in law enforcement understand that too often drug addiction is the underlying cause of crime," he said, adding that enforcement can play a vital role in breaking the vicious cycle.

Officials said they also would ramp up efforts to secure America's southern border with Mexico, increase US antidrug cooperation with overseas partners and target violent international drug gangs.

The policy shift comes at a time when illicit drug use in the United States is on the decline.

The administration said drug abuse currently is only about one-third the rate it was in the late 1970s.

Officials also report a 40 percent drop in current cocaine use and a 50 percent decline in the use of methamphetamine.

The administration said it is seeking about $10 billion from Congress for drug education programs and pay for expand access to treatment programs for drug abusers.

The White House budget for 2013 also seeks $9.4 billion for domestic law enforcement, $3.7 billion on interdiction, and $2 billion for international programs.