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Drug Czar: ‘War on Drugs’ Largely Unsuccessful

Gil Kerlikowske, who heads the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, took questions from the foreign press this morning surrounding the administration’s newly issued Drug Control Strategy. And consistent with his approach over the last year, he didn’t have wonderful things to say about the “war on drugs” that’s dictated the nation’s drug policy for decades. Attacking the problem from a public health standpoint, Kerlikowske argued, “seems to make a lot more sense.”

“We’ve been talking about a war on drugs for over 40 years,” he said. “I don’t think the American public sees a huge level of success — not that there hasn’t been some — in a war on drugs.”

Calling it a war really limits your resources. And, essentially, the greatest resource in a war is some type of force. Looking at this as both a public safety problem and a public health problem seems to make a lot more sense.

I know, in talking about these policies with my colleagues, former colleagues — police chiefs and sheriffs and the directors of state police authorities throughout the country — they have become quite frustrated at recycling people through a criminal justice system.

Kerlikowke, who previously headed Seattle’s police force, also noted the economic advantages of treating addiction like an illness instead of a crime.

We also know that … incarceration is very expensive, and that if there are treatment programs — and we know there are — that can be successful in treating drug addiction and keeping communities safe, that those treatment programs are about one-half the cost of incarceration.

And that’s music to the ears of states facing the toughest budget problems in a generation.

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