• A Story of Recovery and a Message of Father’s Day Thanks

    Editor’s Note: In honor of Father's Day, we'll be posting three messages about fatherhood, family, and recovery. This first post comes from Jackson Wiese, who is in recovery and is interning at the National Youth Recovery Foundation. Check back Sunday for a post from Bob, Amy, and Kristy Curry.

    I gagged as I threw up again and again. The alcohol was killing me. I was lying on the bathroom floor in my own vomit, unable to move, completely paralyzed. I heard my dogs run to the front door. The door opened and I heard my Dad’s voice. “Move, Boo!  Bad dog!” he screamed. I sighed with relief that someone was there to help me.

     This is what my relationship with my father was like: avoidance, punctuated by moments of trauma. He is no stranger to addiction, but the two decades he spent beating his own disease could not prepare him for a tremendous guilt he felt—the guilt of watching me die from the same disease he was convinced his father had given him. He never said it to me, but I knew. He blamed himself for my descent to rock bottom.  

    My dad didn’t say a word as he picked me up and carried me to the couch. He was cracking; my sickness was making him sick, too. The pain in his eyes, the dark circles underneath them, and the drained look on his face told me something that I could not see before. He, like me, was getting dragged into the darkness—this time not by his addiction, but by mine.

    The next day after another violent binge, I awoke to my dad crying beside me. “I’m watching you drown in the ocean. And I can’t swim,” is all he said. I was rotting away physically, but I was killing my dad emotionally.

    That was then. Now, I’m just shy of four months clean, and I think about how things used to be. I smile a bit, knowing I have made it out of the depths of hell. I smile because I’m beginning to repair a bridge with my father— one which I thought had been burned to ashes.

    I am overwhelmed as I try to write a few paragraphs that explain the change in my dad since I entered recovery. As I sat down to write this, I received a text message from him. It was a picture of him on the summit of a mountain with the words “Mt. Quandary. 14,000 ft.”


     At my desk, I took a moment to study the picture, and I was struck by its beauty. Four months ago, my dad wasn’t able to go to work because he was staying at home to watch me, preparing for that moment when he found me dead from an overdose. Now he is climbing mountains—refreshing his soul.

    In the photo, his arms are in the air, celebrating the ascent of Mount Quandary. He looks like a new person, bright-eyed and unworried.  He is smiling for the first time in a long time. It’s the picture of a father freed from the fear of losing a son. It’s the picture of a father able to live his own life again.

    I made it back to the shore, Dad. We can now walk on the beach together. Happy Father’s Day.

  • The Importance of Substance Use Prevention in America’s LGBTQ Community

    According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students are at higher risk for alcohol and drug abuse than heterosexual students. (Read a press release about the report here.)

    Today, during Pride Month, I was pleased to meet with leaders and advocates from the LGBTQ community to talk about substance use and other important issues facing those who are “differently” oriented. I told them how proud I was to work for a President who has made more LGBTQ appointments than any before him and whose Administration is committed to securing equality for all citizens, regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation.

    We also talked about the importance of prevention – stopping substance use before it begins and identifying drug-related problems early. Alcohol and drugs can wreak havoc on even the most supportive and nurturing environments, so it is crucial for these young people, and indeed for all Americans, to remain vigilant against the threat.

    The Obama Administration has made drug-use prevention one of our top priorities and has devoted substantial resources to supporting community-based coalitions around the country through the Drug Free Communities Support Program. These coalitions work to address local health and safety issues, including those faced by LGBTQ youth.

    Among the other powerful tools available for preventing substance abuse is ONDCP’s “Above the Influence” Campaign, which gives teens information and a national platform to talk about staying above the influence of drugs and alcohol.

    The Administration realizes there are significant gaps in understanding about the LGBTQ community. Although we’re clearly moving in the right direction, we must continue to seek culturally appropriate strategies and provide prevention, treatment, and recovery services for all Americans struggling with substance use problems.

  • No Shortage of Good Ideas at New Mexico Town Hall Meeting on Combating Substance Use


    Yesterday, ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske visited Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he participated in a town hall meeting with Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who represents that state’s 3rd District and serves as 2nd Vice Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The meeting brought together law enforcement officials, youth, treatment providers, prevention specialists, and tribal leaders to discuss the threat of substance abuse and their shared task to confront it.

    Participating in the roundtable discussion, which was moderated by  Former Family Court Judge Margaret Kegal, were members of the Santa Fe community, including Dr. Nancy Sanchez from the U.S. Attorney’s Office; Lawrence Medina, Executive Director of the Rio Grande Alcoholism Treatment Program; Lt. Eric Garcia of the New Mexico State Police; former Pueblo Governor Gil Vigil of the Santa Fe Indian School; Jonathan Hale, Chair of the Navajo Nation Health, Education, and Human Service Committee; Moneka Stevens, Program Director for the NM Youth Alliance/NM Forum for Youth Community; and Farmington City Councilman Dan Darnell.


    Members of this broad coalition were of one mind on the importance of working together to pursue a public health approach to substance use that ensures timely and adequate care for families, neighbors, military veterans, and children. Participants also emphasized the need to provide opportunities for young people as well as positive anti-drug messaging to counter the steady stream of pro-drug messages in the media.

    Insights gained through conversations with people across the spectrum of American society help shape development of the National Drug Control Strategy,the blueprint for drug policy in the United States. Through this continuing dialog, the Strategy becomes truly a national document – reflecting the thoughts, ideas, and hopes of Americans from coast-to-coast, revealing the full scope of our country’s drug threat, and setting a clear course for government action.

  • A Visit to Haven for Hope

    Today, I visited San Antonio, Texas, to discuss the Obama Administration’s emphasis on treatment and prevention as part of national efforts to reduce drug use and its consequences.  During my stay, I stopped by Haven for Hope– a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming the lives of homeless men, women, and children by addressing the root causes of homelessness through education, job training, and behavioral health services.

    As the Nation’s largest campus of its kind, Haven for Hope provides the care and resources that homeless Americans need to overcome substance abuse. I had the honor of touring the campus and discussing Haven for Hope’s success in helping substance users recover from the ravages of addiction.

    The important work done at Haven for Hope underscores that we must treat America’s drug problem as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice one. Haven for Hope is a shining example of why it’s important to take this approach and to recognize that recovery is essential to tackling the country’s drug problem. Too many people suffering from addiction aren’t able to receive adequate treatment, so it’s refreshing to see programs and facilities focused on increasing access to treatment for people who need it most.

    The 2012 National Drug Control Strategymarked a significant shift in the way we approach the drug problem, with an emphasis on treatment and recovery. To support this shift, the Obama Administration has committed more than $10 billion in FY 2012 for drug education programs and support for expanding access to drug treatment for people suffering from substance use disorders. As we move to put these plans into action and prepare the next Strategy, I look forward to working alongside Haven for Hope and other admirable organizations that are helping those burdened with substance use problems get the care and support they need.

  • Lifting Stigma and Celebrating Recovery at Betty Ford Center

    Today I had the privilege of speaking at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California, to treatment and recovery specialists from around the country about the Obama Administration’s support for the vital work they do. I cannot overstate my admiration and appreciation for the efforts of these dedicated professionals to help people in recovery from substance use disorders.

    Their work, in fact, aligns precisely with the Obama Administration’s approach to drug policy – a balanced, 21st century strategy that views substance use not as purely a law enforcement matter, but as a complex public health and public safety issue that must be addressed as such. The Administration’s inaugural National Drug Control Strategy, released in 2010, changed the way the Federal Government perceives and responds to the drug problem. In the past, the debate about drug control lurched back and forth as if between two incompatible extremes—drug legalization on one hand and heavy law enforcement on the other. Lost in the argument was the immense value of a policy guided by science and the tenets of mental and behavioral health care. Also neglected in that old-school “either-or” debate were the hundreds of thousands of people in treatment and recovery who are working hard to break free from the grips of substance use and reclaim their lives.

    The 2010 Strategy captured the nuances between those stark extremes and, for the first time, brought recovery to the center of national drug control policy. As a further measure of the Administration’s new direction and commitment, it also called for creation of a special team within ONDCP devoted exclusively to recovery issues.

    Over the past three years, we have continued on the course set in that first Strategy, tightening our focus on recovery and setting forth clear recovery-oriented goals. These goals include expanding access to recovery support services; identifying and addressing barriers to recovery in the community, and fostering the development of recovery-oriented systems and services. In April, my office released the 2012 National Drug Control Strategy, which outlines an array of innovative and evidence-based health and safety approaches to our Nation’s drug problem, supports alternatives to a law-enforcement-centric “war on drugs,” and gives treatment and recovery the attention they deserve.

    The new Strategy also defines 113 specific actions to be undertaken throughout the Federal government to reform U.S. drug policy through innovative and evidence-based public health and safety approaches, which include reviewing laws and regulations that impede recovery from addiction, improving access to drug treatment, and expanding community-based recovery support programs.

    Central to the new Strategy is a clear understanding of the nature of addiction. Drug use, of course, begins with personal choice and deliberate action. However, research has shown that the addiction that can come as a consequence of drug-using behavior is a chronic disease that, like many diseases, can be treated – even defeated.

    The Betty Ford Center, which opened in 1982, provides treatment and recovery services for alcohol and other drug dependencies and boasts more than 90,000 alumni around the world. It grew out of a dream by its founder, an inspirational leader who was not afraid to break taboos and speak out on issues that affect the lives of millions of people who might otherwise be left in the shadows. It is only fitting that the Center that bears her name should be the setting for our discussion about the important role of recovery in our Nation’s struggle against substance use.

  • Veterans Treatment Courts: Providing Our Nation's Heroes the Support They Have Earned

    Note: This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

    The Obama Administration is committed to the health and well-being of our armed forces, including support for the physical and mental health needs of service members and their families. This ongoing commitment is part of the Administration's "Joining Forces" initiative, a national effort to mobilize all sectors of society to give our active-duty service members, veterans and their families the opportunities and support they have earned.

    An important component of this effort is our work to support the military men and women returning from duty overseas who are suffering from substance use disorders. Too often, when left untreated, these veterans end up in the criminal justice system. But there is hope. In a growing number of communities across America, veterans with substance use disorders who also face a criminal charge are able to participate in Veterans Treatment Courts. With help from the Veterans Administration and local veterans organizations, these specialized courts respond to the needs of former soldiers by diverting offenders into treatment instead of incarceration and providing the social services they need. The first Veterans Treatment Court was launched in January 2008 in Buffalo, New York. Today there are over 95Veterans Treatment Courts in the United States, and another 200 are planned.

    Today in Nashville, Tennessee, I had the honor of speaking with veterans and advocates about Federal, local, and community efforts to help them by supporting these types of courts. Joining me were Mike Jones, a participant in the Orange County Combat Veterans Court, and Nick Stefanovic, a graduate of the Rochester Veterans Treatment Court. These two young men told us of the difficulties they faced coming home and how their participation in a Veterans Treatment Court helped them become productive members of their communities again.

    In April, the Obama Administration released the 2012 National Drug Control Strategy, the government's primary blueprint for drug policy in the United States. The Strategy rejects a law-enforcement-only approach to drug policy, instead setting a course that relies on evidence-based solutions and views substance use as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue. Specifically, the new Strategy is guided by three facts: addiction is a disease that can be prevented and treated; people with substance use disorders can recover; and innovative new criminal justice reforms can stop the revolving door of drug use, crime, incarceration, and re-arrest.

    In keeping with this new "third way" direction in drug policy, the Administration strongly supports substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery services, as well as alternatives to incarceration for veterans and other offenders with drug-use problems. There is no better example of a viable alternative to incarceration than Veterans Treatment Courts, which exemplify the Administration's balanced, 21st century approach to drug policy.

    To read more about Veterans Treatment Courts, visit JusticeforVets.org.

  • Small Business Week: A Safe Haven for Enterprise

    “Small businesses are the anchors of our Main Streets…part of the promise of America – the idea that if you’ve got a dream and you’re willing to work hard, you can succeed…It’s this promise that has drawn millions to our shores and made our economy the envy of the world.”

    --President Barack Obama

    During Small Business Week, we are highlighting a few examples of small businesses working in prevention, treatment or recovery. Today’s post highlights A Safe Haven, a Chicago-based not-for-profit organization that helps people overcome addiction and transition into sober, productive lives.

    For more information about Small Business Week, please visit www.nationalsmallbusinessweek.com, and join in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #sbw2012.



    Small businesses are frequently, and rightly, recognized as engines of economic prosperity capable of transforming communities. A Safe Haven is a Chicago-based, not-for-profit organization serving more than 4,000 individuals annually, providing housing, substance use and mental health disorder treatment, training, employment readiness and placement services, educational and life-skills training. Since its establishment in 1994, Safe Haven has developed seven independently incorporated for-profit social business enterprises helping to make that dream a reality for many for whom it might otherwise have been unimaginable.

    These businesses are managed and staffed by individuals from A Safe Haven’s 16 sites Chicago-area sites, and are incorporated as subsidiaries of the A Safe Haven Foundation.  They provide living-wage employment opportunities for homeless men and women, veterans, and individuals returning to the community from incarceration. Perhaps even more importantly, the enterprises—which include a pest control business, a landscaping business, culinary arts/catering operations, property management services, housekeeping services, customer service and sales professional services,  and a cosmetic nail care line—provide their employees with an opportunity to develop critical work skills, including business management and leadership.

    Neli Vazquez-Rowland, who co-founded A Safe Haven with her husband Brian Rowland and who serves as President of A Safe Haven Foundation, sums it up: “We want to show the world that we help people overcome crisis and re-enter the employment market—these individuals are now supporting themselves, taking care of their families, paying taxes, and contributing to their communities. There’s a huge return on investment for helping people in crisis get back on their own two feet.”  Neli and Brian, who both worked in the financial services industry before founding A Safe Haven, make return on investment a primary focus. Their top organizational priority is ensuring that taxpayers, corporate funders, and those they serve achieve a solid return on investment.

    Bianca, a 53-year-old A Safe Haven resident, is a perfect example of the organization’s success in combining social service delivery with business development. She started using heroin at age 17, and by the time she found her way to A Safe Haven, she had been arrested more than 120 times and imprisoned seven times.  Through her work with A Safe Haven, Bianca has been able to address her substance use problem, which was at the root of her criminal behavior. That has allowed her to find a living-wage job in one of the A Safe Haven social business enterprises.  She is now a tax-paying member of her community, has reunited with her children and family, and serves as a volunteer helping others overcome addiction. A video of her inspirational story is below:

    A Safe Haven provides a solid return on investment for taxpayers, corporate funders, and the individuals, families, and communities it serves, and we’re proud to highlight it as part of National Small Business Week.

  • Guest Post: Small Business at Work to Improve Treatment & Recovery Services

    During Small Business Week, we are highlighting a few examples of small businesses working in prevention, treatment or recovery.  Today’s guest blog post comes from the Co-Deputy Directors of NIATx, an organization that helps lower costs and improve effectiveness in the field of mental health care. For more information about Small Business Week, please visit www.nationalsmallbusinessweek.com, and join in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #sbw2012.


    Small Business at Work to Improve Treatment & Recovery Services
    By: Kim Johnson, MBA, and Todd Molfender, Ph.D, Co-Deputy Directors at NIATx

    Kim Johnson, MBA, and Todd Molfender, Ph.D, are Co-Deputy Directors at NIATx (formerly the acronym for the Network for the Improvement of Treatment), a part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Heath Enhancement Systems Studies (CHESS).

    The business model for substance abuse prevention and treatment is undergoing a sea change. Prevention has transitioned from a sole focus on school-aged children to a lifespan view that involves community engagement and policy-level initiatives. Treatment is evolving from primarily a grant-funded service to part of the specialty care system within the health care infrastructure.

    What do these changes mean for the future of organizations that treat substance use disorders?  First and foremost, we need to think about customer service. Who are our customers, and how do we meet their changing needs and demands?  Second, we must become more efficient.  Fading fast are cost-based contracting systems that encourage increasing costs and reducing units of service. No more can clinical effectiveness and business efficiencies be considered separate and apart.
    NIATx is part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies.  We are dedicated to making improvements to the cost and effectiveness of the substance use disorder care delivery system while helping remove barriers to treatment and recovery. At the heart of our work is the research-based NIATx model of process improvement designed specifically for behavioral health care settings to improve access and retention.  Through the NIATx Learning Collaborative, members share innovative ideas with each other via learning sessions, interest circles, and coaching sessions.

    Having worked with over 3,000 prevention and treatment organizations, we have learned that efficiency and customer service are actually two sides of the same coin. Addiction treatment providers should offer appropriate medications and effective behavioral interventions, along with ongoing support. As with other chronic diseases, substance abuse treatment should involve addressing acute episodes of illness and providing ongoing monitoring and support.

    Substance abuse treatment providers need to develop and improve their billing systems by building the capacity to contract with payers, bill insurers, and Medicaid for services. They should measure and publish outcomes that are of interest to all of their customers—patients, family members, payers, and regulators. These include process measures like wait times and treatment retention rates as well as outcome measures such as reduced use and increased compliance with treatment protocols.

    Outcome measures are equally important for prevention service providers.  Companies unable to hire enough job applicants who can pass their drug tests are interested in supporting prevention activities.  The Strategic Prevention Framework developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) consists of identifying goals and measuring outcomes. Prevention activities will be judged by their ability to influence change at the population level. It is essential for prevention and treatment providers to learn about emerging technologies. In addition to ONDCP, SAMHSA, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse are excellent sources to learn of potential changes years before they begin to affect practice.

    We live in an exciting time for substance abuse prevention and treatment. The transition presents great opportunities, but organizations will need to rethink all aspects of their business model to thrive in an evolving environment.

  • Small Business with Big Impact: Substance Abuse Treatment Providers in Our Communities

    This week the Small Business Administration observes National Small Business Week, a time to recognize the importance of supporting smallbusiness owners. This year, participating small business owners represent a broad range of business products, services, and innovations, including a gourmet food maker from Maine, a  bus-builder from Nevada, a Wisconsin dental clinic, a machine parts miller from Iowa, a trade show producer from New Mexico, and 47 others from across the country.

    Similarly, many substance abuse treatment programs are founded and operated by entrepreneurs and, like all small businesses, must focus on obtaining funding, tracking revenue, gaining and maintaining approval from regulatory bodies, hiring staff, and building facilities. With recent changes such as enhanced parity legislation, the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and emerging technological advances, substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery providers need support to stay on top of current trends and new innovations.

    In recognition of National Small Business Week, ONDCP’s Deputy Director for Demand Reduction David K. Mineta has identified several small businesses doing outstanding work in the prevention, treatment, and recovery fields. Check back during the week as we feature guest blogs highlighting their important work.

    Small businesses and startups are driving economic recovery and job creation in America and are vital to fostering an economy built to last.  In the case of substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery providers, they are also changing lives and strengthening communities.  Learn more about National Small Business Week at SBA.gov.

  • Study: more than half of adult male arrestees test positive for at least one drug

    This blog post was originally published on The Huffington Post

    One month ago today, we released the Obama Administration’s 2012 National Drug Control Strategy, a drug policy grounded in sound research from the world’s preeminent drug abuse researchers.  This policy marks a departure from the debate I’ve seen develop during the past few years, which has lurched between two extreme views. On one side are those who suggest that drug legalization is the “silver bullet” solution to our nation’s drug problem.  On the other are those who still believe that the “War on Drugs,” law-enforcement-only strategy is the way forward. Our policies reject both these extremes in favor of a “third way” to approach drug control.

    The foundation of this “third way” approach is peer-reviewed, scientific research that provides us insight into the disease of addiction and a roadmap on how to prevent and treat it. The “third way” approach deals in facts—not dogma—and relies on research—not ideology.

    Here are what the facts show.  Drug use and related crime strain the resources of this country.  The latest evidence comes from the 2011 Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Annual Report (ADAM II), released today, which tests for drugs in adult males arrested for a wide variety of crimes in 10 sites across the country. This study found a majority of adult males arrested for crimes tested positive for an illegal drug at the time of their arrest.  In fact, positive drug tests among arrestees ranged from 64 percent in Atlanta, GA, to 81 percent in Sacramento, CA.

    These data were obtained from individuals booked for all types of crimes, from misdemeanors to felonies, and not just those arrested on drug charges.  The ADAM program tests only for drugs marijuana, cocaine, opiates (including heroin and prescription pain relievers), amphetamines/methamphetamine, Darvon, PCP, benzodiazepines, methadone, and barbiturates—not alcohol. 

    This report highlights the urgent need for institutions at the federal, state, and local level to come together to support proven reforms that work to break the vicious cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration and re-arrest.  It’s a cycle my colleagues and I are committed to breaking because we care about the health and safety of our fellow citizens, our healthcare system, and our economy.

    Too often, the caustic debate over drug policy in America leaves out some revolutionary and innovative programs taking hold in communities across America. I was pleased to see the Wall Street Journal recently brought attention to some of these programs in an essay by drug policy experts, who argued that there is no quick fix to the complex issue of drug abuse and addiction. These experts pointed to the success of programs such as Drug Market Interventions, which close down open-air drug markets through community-based strategies and offer drug offenders a second chance. Other successful initiatives like Hawaii’s Project Hope probation program, which dramatically reduces probation violations through swift, predictable sanctions, represent the future of a progressive drug control strategy. These programs are part of the President’s drug policy Strategy because they have demonstrated records of success not only in dissipating criminal activity, but in actively building community and reducing incarceration rates.

    Although today’s data show a high rate of arrestees testing positive for illicit drugs, over the long term, we are actually seeing declines in drug use rates among the general population.  Over the past 30 years, the overall rate of current drug use in America has dropped by roughly one third. And more recently, the rates of current cocaine and meth use have dropped by 40 percent and 52 percent, respectively, and the number of cocaine overdoses has dropped by 42 percent. 

    The 2011 ADAM II findings are clear evidence of the link between drugs and crime. Too often, underlying substance use disorders are the driving force behind criminal activity. It is imperative, then, that we address our nation’s drug problem not just as a criminal justice issue but as a public health issue. We cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem. What we need are evidence-based reforms that break the cycle of drug use and crime, reduce recidivism, and make our communities healthier and safer.

    To read the ADAM II report, see an at-a-glance fact sheet on the findings, or view an interactive map reflecting the data by geographic region or drug type, please visit this page on our website.