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Drug Czar to Focus Efforts on Treatment, Not Punishment

Announcing the nomination of Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the White House yesterday said it would emphasize treatment over jail as the way to tackle the nation’s drug abuse problems. From The Washington Post:

The choice of drug czar and the emphasis on alternative drug courts, announced by Vice President Biden, signal a sharp departure from Bush administration policies, gravitating away from cutting the supply of illicit drugs from foreign countries and toward curbing drug use in communities across the United States.

The move is sure to alleviate some concerns in the health and human rights communities that, by choosing Kerlikowske as drug czar, the Obama administration would continue Washington’s enforcement-based, war-on-drugs mentality — a strategy that’s done little to solve the problem.

Since President Richard Nixon first declared a war on drugs nearly four decades ago, the government has spent billions of dollars with mixed results, according to independent studies and drug policy scholars. In recent years, the number of high-school-age children abusing illegal substances has dipped, but marijuana use has inched upward, and drug offenders continue to flood the nation’s courts.

There is more good knows for drug reform advocates. Kerlikowke’s chief deputy, The Post reports, is expected to be A. Thomas McLellan, “a professor at the University of Pennsylvania medical college and the chief executive of the Treatment Research Institute in Philadelphia, according to two sources in the drug control community, who said the selection underscored the administration’s philosophy of rehabilitation and outreach.”

It’s a good sign that the White House is serious about its treatment-based approach.

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