There are more than 22 million Americans with a substance use disorder (SUD), yet only 1 in 10 of them receives treatment for their illness, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Obama administration says that rates for the prevalence of drug use and for the lack of adequate treatment for SUDs are “unacceptable.”
Last month, Michael Botticelli, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, announced the release of the 2014 National Drug Control Strategy—the Obama administration’s primary blueprint for drug policy in the United States.
Issues concerning substance use “touch every family and every community in one way or another,” said Botticelli. “There are millions of Americans—including myself—who are in successful long-term recovery from a substance use disorder. This policy supports each and every one of us and demonstrates a real commitment to a smarter, more humane approach to drug policy in the 21st century.”
In 2013, the administration implemented a sizable shift in drug policy reform, with Attorney General Eric Holder announcing in August new changes to the Department of Justice charging policies, ensuring that the most severe mandatory minimum penalties are reserved for serious, high-level, or violent traffickers, not nonviolent, low-level drug offenders.
In addition, HHS followed that announcement with the release of its “Opioid Overdose Toolkits,” which provide information on overdose prevention, treatment, and recovery for first responders, prescribers, and patients, while promoting the use of naloxone as a life-saving prescription drug that can reverse opiate overdoses.
The administration capped 2013 off with the first-ever Drug Policy Reform Conference, which drew more than 100 leaders from prevention, treatment, early intervention, and criminal justice reform communities to discuss evidence-based approaches to reducing drug use and its consequences.
The newly released strategy focuses strongly on the science behind drug addiction. The new blueprint for drug reform is based on scientific evidence that addiction is a disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated and is an illness from which people can recover—not a moral failure on the part of the individual, a once widely accepted misconception.
“Public opinion on drug policy is finally catching up to what the science has demonstrated for quite some time,” said Botticelli. “We cannot incarcerate addiction out of people. While law enforcement should always play a vital role in protecting communities from violent drug-related crime, at the end of the day we must acknowledge that public-health and criminal-justice initiatives must work together to address this complex challenge in a smarter way.” As a result of the strategy’s enhanced science-based focus, funds have been allocated for training sessions to help law enforcement officers and executives understand the science of addiction and how this understanding could inform practices.
The 2014 strategy will continue to address the alarming rates and consequences of opioid use by enhancing the attention paid to opioid overdose prevention, treatment, and the administration of naloxone when necessary. Drug overdose deaths, driven by prescription painkillers, now surpass the number of homicides and deaths associated with traffic crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lastly, the strategy calls for better data collection to improve the ability of federal, state, and local officials to identify and respond to threats from emerging drugs of abuse or the spread of existing ones.
In an interview with Psychiatric News, Petros Levounis, M.D., M.A., chair of psychiatry at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and an expert in addiction psychiatry, praised the administration’s efforts to address substance abuse. “For a long time, we thought that understanding how the brain gets addicted and the provision of effective treatment to addiction were two worthwhile, but rather separate, endeavors. Today, we are in a position to truly integrate the science and practice of addiction medicine.”
In support of the 2014 strategy, Obama has requested $25.5 billion in Fiscal 2015. ■