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New National Drug Control Strategy Puts Emphasis on Treatment

On July 9, 2014, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released its strategy for the upcoming year. Michael Botticelli, the current drug czar who assumed his position in March, released the official National Drug Control Strategy at an event in Roanoke, Va.

The strategy represents a shift in direction from previous years, emphasizing the need for treatment rather than punitive measures for people suffering from addiction. However, drug reform activists believe that the strategy still puts too much emphasis on treating drug users as criminals and demonizing marijuana.

A Change in Labels Is Emphasized

One of the main talking points of the 2014 strategy is the need to change the way we talk about people who are living with an addiction. The ONDCP encourages people to refrain from using the terms “addict” or “drug abuser,” and to rely instead on language that emphasizes addiction is a disease. According to the ONDCP, these terms contribute to the stigma that often surrounds drug abuse and addiction, and discourages people from seeking help.

Cautious Approach to Marijuana Displeases Activists

When Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational marijuana, the Obama administration made the decision not to fight the legislation. However, both the White House and Botticelli have said that they do not believe marijuana should be legalized nationwide. In the 2014 strategy, the ONDCP says it will be keeping a close eye on the effects of legalization in the two states.

Marijuana activists are disappointed that the White House continues to express opposition to recreational legalization and remains reluctant to recognize the value of medical marijuana, which is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia. While the ONDCP strategy argues that legalization is not “a panacea,” activists counter that it is at least a move in the right direction.

One active step that the new strategy features is an increased effort to crack down on illegal outdoor marijuana growing operations on public lands, particularly in national forest land in California. Federal officials also plan to put more effort into locating indoor growing operations.

Reducing Overdose Fatalities a Priority

Most activists were pleased that the new strategy includes plans to greatly increase access to naloxone, a drug that can save the lives of those in the midst of an overdose on opioids. The document announced five-year strategies for reducing deaths from drug overdoses, which have been on the rise in recent years. The ONDCP also states that it supports Good Samaritan laws that give immunity to people who call 911 to report an overdose. Frequently, the person who finds someone in the middle of an overdose is someone who also uses drugs, and these individuals are sometimes too frightened of being arrested to call for help.

The new strategy also supports the expansion of syringe exchange programs to help reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Syringe exchange programs allow people who inject drugs to exchange their needles after every use for a new, sterile needle. People cannot get into legal trouble for using a syringe exchange program.

The strategy also acknowledges that the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world and how this places a social and economic strain on the country. This admission, in addition to the emphasis on preventing fatalities and disease prevention, has largely earned the approval of drug reformers.

Increased Spending for Treatment and Prevention

The budget breakdown for the ONCDP’s 2014 plan includes $11 billion that will go toward treatment and prevention of drug abuse as well as $9 million that will go toward law enforcement and the costs of incarceration. In all, the Obama administration reports that 43 percent of the ONDCP’s budget will now be directed toward treatment and prevention efforts – the highest percentage in the last 12 years.

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