Drug use affects the lives of millions of people and contributes to many of the other challenges our Nation faces – from public health and safety to economic stability, military preparedness, and quality education for America’s young people.
While drug use and its consequences affect every community in this country, African-American communities have been among the hardest hit. These consequences include public health problems arising from drug use, children who become part of the child welfare system, and those who become victims of drug-related crime, among other issues.
At the same time, African-American communities and leaders have long been leading voices in the call for a more balanced national drug policy, as earnest and consistent critics of a policy approach that relied too heavily on the criminal justice system to address a multi-faceted drug problem.
Shortly after my confirmation by the Senate as Director of National Drug Control Policy, I said the time had come to retire the phrase “War on Drugs,” and to address drug use not only as a public safety issue, but also as an issue of public health.
Our drug control policy must be fair, and must be flexible enough to address the evolving drug issues we face. Overdose deaths have more than doubled over the last 10 years, now exceeding automobile fatalities as the number one cause of injury death in 16 states.
Prescription drug abuse is at record levels. In 10 states, drugged driving is more prevalent than drunken driving. And recent data show troubling signs among youth of increased use of some drugs, and softening attitudes toward drug use.
ONDCP is committed to pursuing evidence-based policies grounded in objective facts and data, which can help counter harmful racial stereotypes. For instance, 85 percent of Federal crack cocaine defendants are African-American, and the existing mandatory minimum disparity between crack and powder cocaine cannot be justified based on pharmacological differences.
This administration is actively working with Congress to promote equity in penalties for cocaine-related crimes, while retaining the tools needed by law enforcement to protect communities from the violence associated with drug trafficking. There’s an obvious incentive to change laws with disproportionate racial impact, but an additional benefit to promoting equitable sentencing is that it will increase the public’s confidence in our criminal justice system. That confidence is critical, because the criminal justice system has an important role to play in a balanced approach to the drug problem.
In May, President Obama announced this administration’s 2010 National Drug Control Strategy, a comprehensive and balanced plan built upon the experience and insights of people who deal with drug issues on a daily basis across this nation.
This new approach to the effort to curb drug use and its consequences is grounded in three basic truths:
Drug use takes a terrible toll on public health, and requires a public health policy response on the same scale as our public safety response to the issue. The U.S. public health and healthcare systems need to assume a larger role in addressing drug use, and addiction treatment programs need to be integrated into mainstream medicine.
Because the drug problem stems primarily from drug use within the United States, effective drug policy must begin at home. We must and will continue multi-national, collaborative efforts to reduce the international production and trafficking of drugs. But we must also realize that the most promising solution to the U.S. drug problem starts right here: in curbing our enormous demand for drugs.
We now have an unprecedented number of scientifically evaluated tools and best practices to use in response to the drug problem. Evidence-based policing programs can disrupt drug markets. Prevention research has shown us how communities can more effectively protect their young people from substance use, and advances in pharmaceutical and psychological treatment offer new hope to those struggling with the disease of addiction.
Our overall anti-drug budget requests over $15 billion for prevention, treatment, research, law enforcement, interdiction, and international support. The president’s FY 2011 Budget request proposes increasing our prevention budget by more than 13 percent and our treatment budget by more than 3 percent, while maintaining strong support for law enforcement.
Additionally, the Obama administration’s drug control budget would devote significant resources for law enforcement actions against drug traffickers, for community-oriented policing, protecting public lands from illicit drug cultivation, and for reinforcing our borders with stepped-up drug interdiction.
With this new strategy and added resources, we will be better able to intervene early once substance abuse has started, to treat cases of abuse and dependence, to reduce drug-related crime, promote recovery from addiction, and to enhance our domestic border control, community and enforcement efforts to disrupt drug production, sales and trafficking.
This is our strategy. This is our blueprint for action. Together, we can work to reduce the human suffering caused by drug use and its consequences, and create a safer, healthier nation.