Is the “War on Drugs” Over?

News out of Washington recently seems to show a dramatic change to the “war on drugs” to dealing with drug and addiction problems.  In the past, the focus from a government perspective was to catch and punish people who use and abuse drugs.  However, the amount of research that is now available has begun to change this.

The issue is changing from being a crime and punishment issue focused on law enforcement to becoming more of a public health problem issue.

Advances in the science behind addiction and the success of public health programs around the world are largely responsible for this shift in thinking.

Gil Kerlikowske, who is the director of the national drug control policy, said that several years ago that even though he wasn’t a big fan of the war on drugs, he still thought that if you were suffering from addiction problems, you just needed to develop the fortitude and find a way to break through them on our own.  Public perception at that time agreed with this way of thinking.

However, his opinion has changed due to the quality and quantity of research that has recently become available.

The medical and science worlds have concluded that addiction is much more of a disease, and it’s chronic.   Simply having the will to change your life isn’t always enough to be able to change it and punishing people for using drugs doesn’t work either.  “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.”

Evidence consistently supports that “drug courts” are a much better option than putting these addicts through the legal system and sending them to prison.  A drug court is something that focuses on sending people to treatment where they can get help instead of the old fashioned and ineffective prison sentence.

Another reason for this update is looking at the programs other countries have used to combat their own drug problems.  In a recent tour of Russia, Britain, Portugal, Sweden, Colombia, Italy and Mexico, President Obama talked with leaders about their addiction problems, prevention plans and treatment programs.

He was especially interested in a plan that has seen success in Portugal.  Their fresh approach eliminated arrests and prisons more than a decade ago for people who were found with illegal drugs intended for their personal use.  Instead of sentencing these people as criminals, they focused on treatment and prevention messages.

The current estimations are that more than 20 million people within the US would benefit from a drug treatment program, however only 4 million of those people are actually getting help.

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