Building a Healthier America

Improving the public health and safety of America’s communities is our primary goal in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and last week I was pleased to release the Administration's 2011 National Drug Control Strategy, which provides the blueprint for reducing drug use. I have said many times that there is no one drug problem in America. It manifests itself in many different ways across the country. But the consequences of drug use affect us all.

That is why our Strategy focuses on preventing substance abuse and intervening at an early stage in the process – before the costs to society mount. In 2007, the most recent year for which we have data, the economic impact of illicit drug use on American society totaled more than $193 billion, more than the estimated annual costs of diabetes, obesity, or smoking. Addressing addiction and substance abuse in this country is crucial to building a healthy, strong, and competitive America.

The Obama Administration's inaugural National Drug Control Strategy, released last year, outlined a collaborative, balanced, and science-based approach to reducing drug use and its costs and consequences. This year’s Strategy expands and builds upon that foundation, with a continued emphasis on drug prevention and early intervention programs in healthcare settings, diverting non-violent drug offenders into treatment instead of jail, funding more scientific research on drug use, and expanding access to substance abuse treatment. For the first time, this year’s Strategy also outlines specific actions designed to improve the health and safety of three special populations affected by high rates of substance use: active duty military and veterans; college students; and women and their dependent children.

Today's announcement builds upon several important legislative milestones achieved over the past year. In August, President Obama signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act. This significant piece of criminal justice reform dramatically reduced a 100-to-1 disparity between the amounts of powder and crack cocaine that trigger mandatory minimum sentences and eliminates the mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine. It also increased penalties for major drug traffickers. In October, the President signed into law the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010, which will help communities combat the Nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic by providing states and localities the authority to collect expired, unused, or unneeded prescription drugs. These accomplishments are part of the rebalanced approach to our Nation’s drug policy.

Both this year and last year’s Strategies were developed with significant input from our Federal, state, local, and tribal partners, as well as dedicated experts from across the country. We look forward to working together to address this issue and build a healthier America.

R. Gil Kerlikowske is Director of National Drug Control Policy 

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